What if you were pregnant and woke up to find that your child was gone. No trace, no memory, you just are no longer pregnant. Imagine the implications, not only within the family, but from others outside. What would that do to you? More importantly, what if that was just the beginning of the nightmare? These are the questions posed at the start of Jimmy Loweree debut feature, Absence.
The film opens in the Hospital where Liz (Erin Way, “Alphas”) is recovering after having her child seemingly kidnapped. Even worse, the child was unborn! Her ex-military husband, Rick (Eric Matheny, J. Edgar), takes her out of town along with her brother, Evan (Ryan Smale, Damage), who is attempting to document his sister’s recovery and selfishly complete a film assignment for college at the same time. The tension is immediate, and constant. Evan is one of those guys that we all know that is constantly trying to berate you with his non-existent humor. He is childish, lazy and self-servant, the complete opposite of Rick. Somehow, his childish antics manage to attract a local girl named Meg (Stephanie Scholz), who actually calms Evan down.
At first things go smooth as can be, with Liz and Rick repairing their relationship, and Evan and Meg forming their own. They almost settle into a normal routine, but suddenly things get weird. The electronics begin to go haywire. Blackouts, sub dermal infestations and unseen attacks follow, destroying their new family unit. What has followed them to the woods and what does it want now?
Absence is a rather introspective horror, much like last year’s horror drama Resolution; it relies on the drama of the story to build its tension. Unfortunately, this is also where it runs into problems. It sets up an initial premise so horrifying in its implication, and then abandons it in favor of an otherworldly threat. With Evan as our lead, we are forced to identify with someone that is rather obnoxious most of the time. Neither Rick nor especially Liz, have enough development to truly satisfy us, or do the plot justice as the brunt of the story follows Evan. This would be interesting if we were seeing them through his eyes but instead they are merely reacting to his pranks and behavior. Meg is also another character that seems to be rich with information but is given no follow through. She may know more about what is happening but this is never explored.
As part of the never ending wave of “Found Footage” horror, you could do worse for your time. The characters do engage you and you wind up caring for them regardless of their short comings. This alone is a small triumph since 90% of the films feature disposable talking heads whose names we can’t even remember through the course of the runtime. For all its flaws, it does have its strong points.
The acting is all good here, especially Ryan Smale as Evan, who starts off almost unbearable and grows into someone who is quite honestly frightened and trying to save his sister. Erin Way and Eric Matheny are relatable as a couple and you almost wish that there was no brother at all. Their struggle is believable and leaves you wanting more. Stephanie Scholz is on her game as well. She infuses Meg with enough honest personality that we really route for her and Evan, even though she probably deserves better. Director Jimmy Loweree guides solid performances through his first feature with an uneven script and minimal budget and does so with skill.
Absence has some interesting ideas and though it has some weak follow through, there may be enough there to entertain fans of the “Found Footage” sub-genre. The performances and plot are strong even though the execution is less than stellar. Simply not much happens through the course of it brisk 80 plus minute running time. As a drama it works, but as a horror film, it lacks any real punch.
If the film has a singular theme, it’s that we are not alone, and I mean that in every sense of the phase. Is this film for you? Maybe. There are a lot of questions posed throughout the film and no answers given. When it comes down to it, at the end of the day, are you willing to seek out your own?