The Absent

Year:  2011
Director:  Sage Bannick
Cast:  Bryan Kirkwood, Sam Ball, Yvonne Zima, Kelly B. Eviston, Denny Kirkwood

Vincent is a highly respected high school science teacher in the small, picturesque town of Liberty.  Despite his friendly demeanor and seemingly perfect life, he is hiding a few dark secrets.  First, he is having a sexual relationship with one of his students.  Second, his brother Oliver, who murdered his parents when they were kids because he suspected them of wanting to kill him to collect insurance money, has escaped from prison and will do anything to protect Vincent and prevent his sexual indiscretion from being revealed.

All too often, low budget horror films feel as if they have been thrown together simply to make a quick buck or provide a source of bragging for the filmmakers.  They more often than not lack any real heart, originality, or purpose.  This makes it all the more refreshing when a low budget, independent film like The Absent comes along.  While far from perfect, it is very apparent that the a great amount of effort and detail went into making the film.  First, the striking and gorgeous cinematography aids in creating the ideal small town atmosphere that is essential to the film's intent.   The opening segment is unique and disturbing enough to hook the viewer immediately, and the sinister nature of this scene creates the tone that is effectively carried throughout the remainder of the film.  The plot is more intricate than generally expected for this type of film, requiring the viewer to pay particular attention to certain details and dialogue much more closely than they may be accustomed to doing.  Of course, for those who just want a simple stalk-and-slash film, this may be problematic, but it is a nice change of pace to view a slasher film that actually tries to be a tad complex.  The characters are all developed nicely and the acting across the board is very good.   Bryan Kirkwood as Vincent is especially effective in making the viewer like him despite the fact that he is seducing a student, played equally well in a very natural and engaging performance from Yvonne Zima.  His brother's rampage is even somewhat understandable, as it seems that Vincent is truly naive in his understanding of the severity and possible consequences of his relationship with this student.  Just as the murder of his parents was justified in his mind as an act of protecting himself, his murdering those who may expose his brother is justified as an act of protecting the only person he has left.  And at clocking in at a meager 70 minutes, the pacing of the film never has a chance to drag or become boring.  In fact, once the film hooks the viewer, which it will undoubtedly do, the end credits will begin rolling, leaving the viewer desiring more.

And that is where one of the film's most prominent faults lies; the film begins by examining a few dark, engaging themes, but abandons them abruptly at the film's conclusion.  The film could have easily afforded some more time to further explore and wrap up these sub-plots and themes.   Additionally, the twist ending is completely unnecessary and makes the film much less effective as it could have been.   It leaves many questions and opens up a few plot holes that would not have otherwise existed.   Other films have utilized the same twist but gave the viewers clues throughout that, when rewatching it, make the twist obvious.  No such clues exist in The Absent, so the climax feels like a cheap shot that leaves a bad after taste.  

Regardless of the film's few flaws, The Absent is an admirable, ambitious little independent entry into the slasher genre and is certainly one of the better low budget genre efforts in quite some time.  The direction and cinematography are wonderful, the performances natural and engaging, and the plot unique and fast-paced enough to keep the even the casual horror viewer hooked. 

Fright Meter Grade:

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