Once again, I launched myself into another POV “found-footage” flick, the horror fan in me hoping against hope that this would be one that I could enjoy. As you likely know, I like the sub-genre; when they’re done even half-ass well, they’re a guilty pleasure for me…but not enough to blind me to the fact that a big chunk of them are simply cheap cheats disguised as an attempt to make a movie (which is all too often the case).
Absence didn’t leave me thinking that it was a cheat, but I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed, either.
The movie starts out with a pretty decent hook: Rick and Liz are a young couple, expecting their first child. We first meet them in the hospital, where it’s soon made clear that her near-to-term pregnancy has simply vanished. No contractions, no blood, no trauma; the pregnancy has simply gone away. Needless to say, neither the doctors nor local law enforcement have an easy time swallowing the whole story of how she simply woke up and wasn’t pregnant, and the pair are quickly vilified and ostracized by the community, despite the fact that a thorough investigation shows no signs of their wrongdoing. Enter Liz’s brother, Evan. Camera in hand, her younger sibling chooses to make his film-school project a documentary telling his sister’s side of the dubious story, hoping to set the record straight and prove that his extended family are not fetal murderers. To get away from the derision and clear their heads, this trio travels to Rick’s family cabin, high in the hills overlooking a quaint little town. Evan meets a local girl, Megan, and the two couples share in some rope-swinging into the lake, board-gaming, and cooking-out fun. Despite the good times, however, the appearances of strange lights in the sky, mysterious maladies that sporadically plague Liz, and strange occurrences around the house remembered only by the camera make us feel that there’s more to the disappearance of the child that meets the eye…and more frightening, it may not be finished with the young family.
As far as found-footage goes, this one isn’t awful; it doesn’t really offer anything new, but it was still better than some I’ve seen. Other than the beginning scene, the rest of the film takes quite a while to get going, but this allows some empathy with the characters; getting to know them a bit is helpful. Erin Way as Liz offers a damned convincing performance as a mother wracked with pain at the loss of her child, but trying to hold it in. The other performances range from none-too-shabby to a little below average, but none of the lesser performances have enough screen time to really drag things down. That said, what bothered me about this film was a lot of what are typically the three Achilles’ heels for this subgenre: First and foremost, why the fuck are you filming everything?? The overall concept I can grasp, but why does Evan get outta bed in the morning and turn the camera on before anything else (and why does he film himself taking a piss)? Along with this “why?” question, we also are beset with the second prime failing of POV flicks: the shaky-cam issue. I swear, the Blair Witch Project is like watching steadicam work next to the last fifteen minutes of this one. Besides just seizure-inducing shaky, we get a lot of the old “the camera’s pointed at the ground/car seat/floor/crotch” a lot. It is more realistic, and thus to me fits the authenticity of what the film is trying to be, but in this case I just thought it could have been edited a bit better.
Finally, the third typical WTF? issue with found-footage: Would people really act this way? Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that there’s one situation that would send any of us rushing to the nearest medical facility, but here, they decide it would be a better idea to get a good night’s sleep and have it checked on in the morning. Yeah. No problem.
Besides these (sadly) anticipated deficits, I had one other (likely just personal) beef: what the hell is up with Evan? This character actually aggravated me enough to push me out of the flick at times. Why does he constantly harass Rick? Why is he in general just a douchebag? He consistently crosses the line of “being funny” to “being a dick”. I mean, he’s family and all, but in the world I live in, people like him either get left at home, their asses kicked, or both.
I didn’t love this little flick, but I don’t hate myself for watching it, either. It has a couple of good scares, and maintains a pretty decent spooky vibe once things get going. If you’re a fan of this kind of movie, you’ll find all the things you enjoy, and all the bullshit things you’ve learned to just accept…just don’t expect anything new.
And that’s two pennies for you Fellow Fans.