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Featured DVD Review: The Absent

March 18th, 2011

The Absent - Buy from Amazon

The Absent is a low-budget horror film that its director, Sage Bannick, had been trying to get made for a while. When he gave up on trying to make the film in the studio system, he made it on his own, but with a much lower budget and therefore with fewer resources. But will this adversely effect the film? Or will the trade-off between money and creative control be worth it?

The Movie

The film begins 25 years ago when Oscar is a kid. His family life is not exactly happy; in fact, his adoptive parents are trying to murder him. After a couple failed attempts, he decides to kill them first, in self-defense, and to protect his twin brother, Vincent.

Years later, when the now grown up Oscar gets out of prison, he quickly returns to killing stabbing the first person we see him meet before disappearing for a couple years. Meanwhile, Vincent has also grown up and become a science teacher. The day Oscar's last prison letter arrives, he's handing out an award for best science student to Yvonne, who is not only his star pupil, but after a breakup with her cheating boyfriend, they head up to his cabin and become more. Unfortunately, there are two immediate negative consequences for this (not counting the statutory rape issue). Firstly, while they are asleep, the cabin catches fire. Secondly, the cabin is where Oscar is hiding out. He sees what happenes and knows what kind of trouble Vincent would get into, so instead of rescuing the two of them, he kills Yvonne and hides the body.

Since no one knew Yvonne was going to be with him at his cabin, no one suspects Vincent is involved when she turns up absent. But as Sheriff John Jackson starts to get closer to the truth, Oscar's body count rises as he protects his twin's reputation. But when Vincent realizes what's going on, he know he has to stop Oscar at all costs.

I'm of two minds on this movie. On the one hand, it actually takes quite a bit of time building up its characters. The opening prologue with Vincent and Oscar as kids alone is more character development than most teenage slashers bother with. This does give the characters more depth and stronger motivations. It also means it has a slower pace, which is a bigger issue than in would otherwise be, as the film only has a 70-minute running time (not counting credits). Also, in the end the character details we're are given don't really play out. It should have either been developed more in the beginning. Perhaps having Vincent and Katie in a relationship longer and have some close calls with potential witnesses, who are then killed by Oscar. Or perhaps shorten this part of the story and have the Vincent and Katie in a relationship before either character is introduced. There are some good ideas, but the execution was a little off.

The filmmakers were clearly working with a tiny budget, and that does have some impact on the final film. Little things like having to keep the kills simplistic because of the lack of a special effects budget, to having a much tighter filming schedule, etc. It is far better than most of its immediate competition, and quite frankly, it's better than a lot of horror films I've reviewed that were distributed by a genre label. If you are a fan of the genre, it's worth checking out, and I look forward to Sage Bannick's next film.

The Extras

There is an audio commentary track on the DVD and a behind-the-scenes featurette. The audio commentary track features the director, Sage Bannick, and one of his co-writers, Damon Abdallah. They discuss working a limited budget and the constraints that puts on filmmaking. (They only had locations for a certain amount of time, so that had an effect on the script, for instance.) There is also a five-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.

The Verdict

The Absent is an ultra-low-budget film that is better than most in the genre but there are still issues. There's not enough gore for gorehounds, while the story elements are not quite sharp enough to compensate. The DVD is still worth checking out, but for most a rental will be enough.

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