“ABSENCE” (Movie Review)
As found footage becomes increasingly ubiquitous within independent horror—dare I say, more than zombies—I find myself less and less concerned with any justification for why anyone is still filming. It is after all, an accepted rule or necessity of this type of fiction. The why seems increasingly irrelevant, especially since most often the answer lies in budget. So it’s nice for a spell that both the general concept of, and the reason main character Evan is filming his post-trauma sister in, ABSENCE is intriguing. It is not nice, and ultimately frustrating however that Evan may be the most grating “never-stop-filming” character in all of found footage.
In Jimmy Loweree’s feature debut, expectant mother Liz awakes one morning to find a nearly-to-term pregnancy gone. That’s mysterious stuff. A deflated belly and no answers bring leery looks from authorities and the general public. So, ignoring the cliché of “I’m also making a project for school because I want to be a filmmaker,” there’s something pure in Evan’s (Ryan Smale) quest to film his sister. He’d like to reveal her devastation, private pain, possible recovery and ultimate innocence in a situation bystanders are finding it easy to point fingers in.
To that end, Erin Way is fantastic as the struggling Liz. Her circumstance is truly unknown and despite real effort, she is ultimately pulled back to despondency as she, Evan and her husband Rick (Eric Matheny) hole up in a country cabin for relaxation. The ultimate question becomes, “is something beyond our realm of understanding responsible for Liz’s plight and state of being?” Given Way’s performance, it could be a compelling journey, but it is so sadly and irritatingly eclipsed by Evan.
Obnoxious, unfunny, pleased with himself and diverted by a vacation fling that is rarely amusing and serves little purpose, Evan begins to shape ABSENCE because we see it through his “eyes.” Like much of found footage, little happens in the run-up to ABSENCE’s shaky shrug of a finale, but the creepy moments peppered along the way are almost always undercut by our point-of-view. This allows for little in the way of slow burn atmosphere and almost nothing close to endearment, or even passing interest, in the ensemble.
“Bad,” has never been a kiss of death in horror. What could be seen as traditionally so could also be singular and fascinating and unintentionally amusing. The otherwise unremarkable ABSENCE however is unfortunately only truly memorable in its insistence on being frustrating and hollow in the face of something just off screen that could be engaging.