There’s been a couple of predominant movements in the horror genre over the last decade. The first, starting with the overhyped and underwhelming The Blair Witch Project (1999), attempts to create immediacy and authenticity through handheld cams and “found footage.” This subgenre picked up some steam with Paranormal Activity (2007), but it appears to be dying out for now. Perhaps audiences realize that shaky cams and cheap scares don’t make up for a dumb plot and severe problems with the logic of the found footage (See my review of Apollo 18).
The other direction horror has gone concentrates on ideas that will scare you. The producers of Paranormal Activity (the folks at Blumhouse Productions) have also teamed up to create a good number of these films, including Insidious (2011), Sinister (2012) , Dark Skies (2013), and the recently released Oculus (2014), which is directed by Absentia‘s Mike Flanagan.
Absentia (2011) only had a budget of $70,000. I’m not sure who would have seen this movie before it was on Netflix, but I’m glad that Mike Flanagan was rewarded by being given more to work with on Oculus. But Absentia is more than just an audition tape. It actually feels like the synthesis of the two movements–the low budget actually doesn’t hinder the look of the film at all; it gives the immediacy and intimacy the found footage films want to create, but it also has a really intriguing and scary idea that drives the film forward. Yes, the suburban setting with the cookie-cutter apartment screams, “We couldn’t afford a filming permit in Los Angeles!” (Who can?), but it also makes you feel like this could really happen and is really happening. Plus, that tunnel is one of the scariest tunnels I’ve seen in a movie, right up there with the underpass in Irreversible (2002).
I’ll leave you with the synopsis on IMDb. There are a lot of horror movies on Netflix you’ve never heard of–this one is worth your time.
Tricia’s husband Daniel has been missing for seven years. Her younger sister Callie comes to live with her as the pressure mounts to finally declare him ‘dead in absentia.’ As Tricia sifts through the wreckage and tries to move on with her life, Callie finds herself drawn to an ominous tunnel near the house. As she begins to link it to other mysterious disappearances, it becomes clear that Daniel’s presumed death might be anything but ‘natural.’ The ancient force at work in the tunnel might have set its sights on Callie and Tricia … and Daniel might be suffering a fate far worse than death in its grasp (Written by Mike Flanagan).
Netflix rating: 4 stars
IMDb rating: 7 out of 10