Absentia (2011) – Mike Flanagan

So digging into Mike Flanagan’s work, I found his first horror feature film, which you can source on YouTube. Sure, it’s shot on a digital camera, and looks a little less sleek than some of his later works, but damn if a lot of recognizable elements aren’t there from the off; the use of family members, specifically siblings to reveal characters, things or people standing in the background unnoticed by the characters on screen, tension building camerawork, it’s all here.

And it has a pretty cool story to go with it, riffing on the classic Billy Goats Gruff fairy tale.

Callie (Katie Parker who would resurface in Flanagan’s Hill House, and the forthcoming Usher) comes to see her pregnant sister, Tricia (Courtney Bell). She’s been attempting to deal with her drug habit, while Tricia has come to the point where she can finally declare her missing husband dead. It’s been seven years, she’s moved on, has developed a relationship with one of the investigating detectives.

Tricia is ready to move on.

Callie’s daily runs take her through an unnerving little pedestrian tunnel, and an encounter with a worn, and tired look man (Doug Jones!!) who has apparently been missing for years begins a strange series of events that hint at something very wrong with that tunnel.

Things take a bizarre turn when Tricia’s husband, Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) returns. He’s broken, suffering from multiple assaults, and can’t really speak to where he’s been. But whatever is in the tunnel has its eye on Callie, Tricia, and reclaiming Daniel.

Flanagan, working within the constraints of his budget, and taking his cue from the less is more when it comes to showing your monster doles out the scares, and the emotional beats equally, walking a fine balance between drama and horror.

The sibling drama, like we would see in his later work, feels natural, and relatable, and the possible explanations when things start happening make this story all the more spooky. Do we believe Callie’s version of events, or is she hallucinating as she succumbs to her drug use? Is there a serial killer at work, or is the monster not human?

Flanagan over the past few years has become one of my favorite storytellers and it’s absolutely amazing that almost everything I love about his work is there from the get-go. I love how he reveals his characters, their truths, and their demons, and I love how in this case, Callie goes searching for the truth, but no one wants to believe it, and the rational excuse is the more believable, but also speaks to the blindness of society, and not paying attention to the things that have been passed down.

I can’t wait to see what else I discover as I move through Flanagan’s filmography.

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