Crash Analysis: ABSENTIA (2011)

The cold case that just gets colder 

Ever wonder why so many missing persons are never found?

Writer/director Mike Flanagan did his damnedest, but in the end, came up short.

The story revolves around Callie Russel (Katie Parker), who visits her sister, Tricia Reilly (Courtney Bell) after a five-year hiatus. What transpired during Callie’s absence is that her brother-in-law, Daniel Reilly (Morgan Parker Brown), has been missing for the last several years – and Tricia is getting ready to declare him dead. What follows is a dramatic story with very few scares and a narrative that doesn’t pay off. Yet, the acting is extremely strong with wonderful cinematography from Rustin Cerveney.

The key to this character driven tale is the acting. Callie, the drug addict looking for her footing, and the pregnant Tricia (Bell was truly seven months pregnant at the time and this was written into the script), suffering from guilt and longing are believable on a grand scale. Character wise, however, Detective Ryan Mallory (Dave Levine) is the standout. Sure, he looks like the type of cop out to bust heads, but Flanagan makes certain to avoid the stock stereotype. Instead, the good detective is the most complex character in the movie. At times, he’s love sick and confused, as for others, he’s angry yet procedural. But you can’t help feeling his predicament. Although the meditation loving and seemingly weak yet strong Tricia is compelling, Mallory’s character was far more multi-faceted and it’s a shame we didn’t experience enough of him – as well as his interchanges with his partner, Detective Lonergan (Justin Morgan). Both characters, and both actors, proved to be as strong a team as the sisters. However, James Flanagan (who played Jamie Lambert), in his only acting role to date, created a very compelling character for less than a handful of scenes.

So the director had it all: great actors, great characters and great lighting, but his own story lagged. This was a tortoise slow kind of movie, and although Flanagan went for subtlety, at times he took this to the extreme, he clobbered us ultra-hard during a couple of scenes in the third act that are weighed down with too much exposition. The movie did take an interesting turn, but Flanagan couldn’t maintain the shock and awe. And in one key moment, we’re left with one of the worst CGI effects I’ve ever seen. Granted, he had raised $70,000 with the help of Kickstarter investors to begin shooting, but he should have at least invested in a talented graphic artist for that compelling moment. You’ll know it when you see it, and when you use your remote to slowly advance through the element, you will know exactly what I mean.

If Flanagan had revised his script one more time, this should have worked. Instead, it’s a better than average also ran thanks to a plot that isn’t fully fleshed out. If he had only been invested in the themes of love and commitment he had instilled within the framework of the narrative, it might have paid off. Still the performances make it worth a rental.

3 out of 5 stars

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