Utilizing the increasingly popular "found footage" genre that combines elements of the thriller into a faux documentary presentation, "Absence" takes a rather slight story and serves up exactly what you might expect. I suspect that some may absolutely loathe "Absence," and I can understand their frustration. People anticipating a full-on horror show based on how the movie is portrayed in its own marketing material and description will likely be disappointed. There is some creepiness, but this presentation doesn't show you much of anything that will actually scare you. For most of its running time, it is a veritable home movie chronicling the vacation of its three central characters. I actually found the trio passably entertaining, so I didn't mind hanging out with them. But if you're looking for more in-your-face chills, this stays relatively uneventful until its final moments. The action picks up for the conclusion, but it lacked any real element of surprise. It's reasonably well made and the actors are appealing enough. It just lacks impact from a plotting standpoint. You've seen it all before and oftentimes better.
The movie starts with an intriguing premise. A young mother-to-be (Erin Way) awakens one day to discover that she is no longer with child despite having been seven months pregnant. This tease is presented quickly and the movie fast forwards as the woman, her husband (Eric Matheny) and her brother (Ryan Smale) are embarking on a get-away to escape the scrutiny, skepticism, and accusations of the local town people and the authorities. Attempting to keep things light, Smale is filming everything for a school project (a rather thin premise, to be sure, as it requires him to have the camera even at the most harrowing and inopportune moments). As they settle into a rural existence, Way pushes past her trauma, the boys bicker playfully, and Smale even finds a local lady to court. It's all roses and sunshine for our vacationers, but they are still obviously haunted by prior events. Just what happened to the unborn fetus? Increasingly unsettling events start to rock this idyllic paradise and, before all is said and done, the truth will ultimately reveal itself.
Filmmaker Jimmy Loweree has an easy enough touch with the material and the actors. Way is surprisingly effective as a woman on the edge, just getting her footing back only to have it knocked away again. And Smale, who we spend the most time with, has an appealing energy. I found him amusing, thankfully. If you don't like him, the movie is pretty much sunk from the get-go as he is always present in one way or another. In terms of set-up, I'd have liked a bit more of the hostility and suspicion that this woman was faced with at home. We see a brief snippet of it, but it is largely cast off as a joke. In the end, the major revelations were handled efficiently, even if they weren't particularly surprising. Most of the movie, however, is like watching someone else's home movie. 4 Stars for the actors, 3 Stars grading this as a "thriller." I liked "Absence," but it adheres too closely to a formula that I've seen way too often in modern independent cinema. About 3 1/2 stars, I wished the picture had taken more chances. KGHarris, 8/13.