Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Absentia's Absinthe Trip: A Movie Review

*full disclosure: a DVD screener of this film was provided by Phase 4 Films.

Director/writer: Mike Flanagan.

Cast: Katie Parker, Courtney Bell and Dave Levine.

Some viewers may experience strangeness while watching Absentia. After a while, the same synthesizer sounds and monotone guitar beats will either mesmerize audiences or cause auditory hallucinations. This background music sounds like it is from one of Brainwave Mind Voyage’s psycho acoustic products. After a while, a few may wonder if that tired feeling will ever wear off.

The soundscape created for this film is strangely appropriate. In a tale about Tricia (Courtney Bell) trying to cope with the disappearance of Danny (Morgan Peter Brown), her husband, the music is like a psychological journey of the experiences to come. That is especially important when she is often seen meditating. With a Tibetan singing bowl sitting next to her, she should have used it more often. At least that has a more pleasing sound.

But when her sister Callie (Katie Parker) comes to live with her, the family pressure is on for Tricia to declare her missing hubbie 'dead in absentia.’ He has been missing for seven years. Although she tries live without him, life is not easy for her. She has met another man, and there is some guilt that she feels. She is pregnant with his child.

And for these two siblings, the movie's focus on abandonment issues is key to the overall plot. Even before Tricia decides to move on, she sees Danny floating around in a tormented spiritual sense. Her visions may seem real, and they are fortunately simple nightmares. The night terrors she experiences continue to plague her even after she signs on the dotted line.

The enjoyability factor in this film will vary. The first act defines the relationship that Tricia has with Callie. The second act has Callie encountering a transient (Doug Jones). She may not have realized that she was looking at a lost soul and he is Walter Lambert, another person thought to be dead.

Writer Mike Flanagan injects some interesting symbolism of what the tunnel represents. It is a passage that separates the physical world from the afterlife. As for what guards it, no agendas need to be revealed here. And that world was where Danny and Lambert were trapped in. By the time they return to the physical realm, they are horribly scarred for life.

This film does not try to get deep into the parapsychological drama of what exists ala James Wan's Insidious. The script merely hints at what may be, and that is a great choice so some mystery remains even after watching this movie.

When Callie suggests how some souls can get spirited away, the neo-urban legend being developed is more interesting than the film's plot. Apparently a natural sinkhole existed in the area, before the freeway was built, and many people have disappeared throughout the years. Callie says that those events are much like those Scandinavian troll legends from yesteryear. But the link is not limited to just one culture. First Nations, Egyptian and Asian tales include beasts who steal life away.

But in what does not work are the in-jokes. They may seem cute, but these tricks are trite in a movie that tries to be serious. Officer Del Toro and Romero may have to take someone in from the production team for questioning! Also the traditional scare elements really need to be re-examined. This movie delivers a few Edvard Munch like moments in its ghostly sequences. Too many films, independent and mainstream, seem to enjoy copying from Munch's seminal work, "The Scream." The image of the frozen face wrecked with angst is getting tiring.

With or without these added effects, this movie is at least a decent entry for a new team of L.A. residents hoping to make it big. The film is a respectable resume piece for cast and crew. Fortunately, only three minutes is required to highlight the talent pool.

And for prospective junkies interested at how to fund a movie and make one on the cheap, the bonus material on the DVD is worth examining. The documentary reveals some of the obstacles that plagued production and the commentary track give some good advice that is worth nothing. The details revealed by the producers help explain the moments of the film that is lost in the music and the best part is that their discourse actually helps mask out the drone.

Overall: 6 out of 10.

The film's fan page is here:

Absentia on Facebook

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