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'Absence' Movie Review

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating


'Absence' movie poster
© Cinedigm
Because of its low-cost, low-tech nature, the "found footage" format has been popular not only with major film studios looking to avoid a big investment in a genre pic, but also with indie filmmakers who can't afford to make a more traditional movie. Presumably in the latter camp is Absence, a quiet film built around an intriguing mystery that never fully develops.

The Plot

Seven months into her pregnancy, Elizabeth "Lizzy" (Erin Way) awakens one day to find her baby girl gone from her belly. Frantic, her husband Rick (Eric Matheny) rushes her to the hospital, where doctors are befuddled by the case. The couple soon finds themselves under investigation by skeptical police and outright scorned by hostile townspeople who suspect them of killing their child.

A few months after the incident, Rick and Lizzy's snarky brother Evan (Ryan Smale) decide to take her to a cabin in the woods to get away from all the stress. As is prone to happen in cinematic cabins in the woods, strange occurrences begin to proliferate -- unexplained lights in the sky, electrical disturbances, high-pitched sounds, dead fish in the lake -- all of which Evan films as part of his school project. As the events grow more ominous, it becomes clear that something has targeted the group and won't stop until it gets them.

The End Result

Erin Way and Eric Matheny in 'Absence'.

Erin Way and Eric Matheny in 'Absence'.

Photo: Christiano Covino © Cinedigm
Presumably the title Absence refers to the disappearance of the unborn child in the story, but it could also represent its lack of action, plot and compelling characters. The problem that many found footage films have is maintaining viewer interest in what amounts to a stranger's home videos -- that is, until they take the inevitable dark turn. The best ones keep our attention with interesting characters, witty repartee, intriguing mythology and enough creepy tidbits here and there until the action really kicks in, but Absence severely lags, with almost nothing of consequence happing for the first hour, and pretty much the only impactful scene occurring in the final minute.

The bones of a good story are there, but it's never flushed out. We get small insights into the characters' lives (Lizzy and Evan's parents dying, Rick's military experience, Evan's girlfriend Megan seeming to know more than she lets on), but they never tie in to the mystery. The core question of what happened to the baby keeps us involved, but the mysterious events that occur along the way lack the scares and intrigue necessary to make the film effective. As it stands, it feels like there's only enough material here for a short film -- which is a shame, because the climactic few minutes hint at how harrowing the rest of the movie could've been.

The Skinny

  • Acting: C (Solidly believable ad-libby performances, but some moments don't feel as natural.)
  • Direction: C- (Overly realistic -- i.e., dark, shaky and blurry -- camerawork.)
  • Script: D (Twenty minutes of plot stretched to 80.)
  • Gore/Effects: C (Minimal gore; few effects but they're done well.)
  • Overall: C- (Promising found footage fare succumbs to dull, plodding script.)

Absence is directed by Jimmy Loweree and is not rated by the MPAA. Release date: July 5, 2013 (in theaters and on demand).

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