Directed by Sage Bannick (2010)
Reviewed by Mat, added on Nov 28 2010
Ingredients: A psychological horror thriller involving a murderous twin brother and a group of horny teens with a dash of slasher and a splash of mind f*ck.
Preparation: The story begins with a young boy named Oscar who discovers that his parents are trying to knock him off for his insurance policy. So he does what any little kid in that situation would do: he feeds them rat poison. Oscar is shipped off to prison for the next 20+ years, but his twin brother, Vincent, grows up to be a respectable high school science teacher. Vincent is (un)lucky in that his student is Yvonne Zima (sister of Madeline Zima), who plays Katie, and he is forced to do what every other male in his situation would do when Yvonne Zima pulls him down on the bed: affair, of course. This doesn’t sit well with Oscar, who has been released from prison and quickly takes care of Katie before knocking his bro out cold as their cabin burns to the ground. Vincent has no idea that Oscar is back in town, but begins getting suspicious when Katie’s friends and classmates begin disappearing. Is a psychotic Oscar out of jail and wreaking havoc on this small town, or is Vincent the crazy one?
Result: I like low budget films that attempt to be ambitious even if they might not pull it off exactly as they’d hoped. The Absent gets props for a few different things. First, it looks polished. They did a good job of making it look more expensive than it probably cost to make. Second, the script tried its best not to go with character archetypes. For example, Katie wins an award for being a great scientist, she’s a nerd, but she’s also horny as all get out and sleeps with two different characters. Another example is an old lady who is setting up the computers at the local police station because the younger sheriff doesn’t have any idea how they work (I totally related to that guy). Little stuff like that shows that the filmmakers were attempting to do something a little different and I dug that. I was also genuinely interested in the main story and trying to figure out what was up with Oscar. Most films don’t begin with parents actively trying to kill their kid so it had a good opening hook. It also didn’t hurt that the ladies were nice to look at. Especially Yvonne Zima. Yowza!
As with any low budget film, there’s going to be problems. One is that the story is a bit confusing. Perhaps that was the point, but even in small details, such as Oscar having a twin brother, it’s a bit vague. In the opening sequence you see Oscar with a kid on a baseball field. I assumed that was just a friend, but back at the house, after he kills his parents, his brother walks down the stairs and asks what he has done. Now, I’d have to go back and look again, but I don’t ever remember seeing Oscar and Vincent, as kids, together at the house. It just comes across as very unclear as to what is going on. Now, I understand why this probably was the case after seeing the whole film, but when you first start watching it you’re like “Wait, did I miss something?” Also, when Oscar pops up and is offing various people, you have no real idea why until a brief bit of dialogue right at the very end of the movie. I appreciate a movie that messes with your head as much as the next guy (heck, it’s Noirvember on the Splattercast, afterall), but it came across as if the film was a bit incomplete, rather than purposely trying to be mysterious. Another example of this “incomplete” feel is when Katie has sex with Vincent. One shot, they are taking off their clothes (as the house is burning down, unbeknownst to them), then we see a bit of fire, then the next shot they are finished and Katie is passed out from exhaustion on the bed. All while the cabin burns down. There is a syntax problem with the film here, as well as a logic problem. I’m supposed to believe that these two just had great sex without realizing that the cabin is burning down around them? Again, film “time” jumps out of place and couple this with a somewhat unclear (some may say incoherent) plot and you really get that sense of incompleteness that I’m talking about. It just feels like there should be more scenes connecting things together. The acting is up and down as is par for the course in low budget movies. The audio is generally pretty good, but there are times when you can tell it’s been altered in post a bit (the baseball field scene suffers from lack of true ambient noise and there is a hollowness to some scenes, such as Oscar talking to his mom in the kitchen), but for the most part it works and isn’t distracting.
In the end, I thought this was an okay first movie from Bannick. It definitely could have used an extra layer of polish, but I liked the ambitious nature of it trying to be a character driven story rather than just a mind screw slasher film with gallons of blood and gore sprayed everywhere. The film went by at a pretty brisk pace and at no time was I fighting the urge to shut it off. I enjoyed it and if you like films more interested in messing with your brain with an occasional splash of bloody viscera, then you might get a kick out if it. It’s a good first effort, for sure. I’ll be interested to see what Bannick does with his next film.
Dessert: This is a horror site and most people interested want to know two things “What about the blood and boobs?”. Since this is a psychological horror film, there isn’t a lot of blood and gore. Oscar does a few stabbings. In one particular scene he suffocates a girl with plastic and then stabs her in the stomach. It’s nothing too graphic. As for the boobs, sadly, this film commits a cardinal sin with many horror fans, namely, showing hot girls taking off their clothes but never showing anything. Other than a brief shot at the very beginning of a woman changing shirts you get nada. And since this is a film filled with horny girls (there is even a lesbian makeout session) having sex, it feels…ahem…incomplete.