Friday, September 28, 2012

Neon + Slime = MUTANT

Mutant (a.k.a. Forbidden World) (1982)
Director: Alan Holzman
Seen via: Shout! Factory DVD (R1)
Rating: 6/10

You might guess from the grinning xenomorph on the poster and the one-word title consisting solely of the name of the monster that Mutant was made to cash in on the popularity of Alien. You'd be right. Mutant is in every way a third-rate barrel-scraping knock-off. But what it lacks in originality (or budget), it makes up for in slime. So much slime. Someone involved with this film knows the way to my heart. Lest you think this is director Alan Holzman's first foray into sci-fi, think again - he's also responsible for editing Battle Beyond the Stars, the film that gave a new (literal) meaning to the word mothership:

Unfortunately, after this one he abandoned the genre in favor of TV movies and documentaries. The set designer however, was a young man named James Cameron, who would go on to direct the sequel to the movie that this one rips off. Okay, so the sets were re-used from another Corman project - Galaxy of Terror - but with this film, you take what you can get.

Mike (played by Jesse Vint, who the eagle-eyed among you might recognize from bit parts in Chinatown and Silent Running) is some sort of space pilot who's awoken by his robot companion SAM when their ship is mysteriously attacked. The space battle that follows is a weird sequence with the same few effects cobbled together repeatedly. It's a pretty good example of how not to edit a coherent space battle, but it ends up being strangely trippy just because of how disjointed it is.

The whos and whys of the battle don't really matter though, because the whole thing is an excuse to get Mike down on the planet Xarbia, where experiments in designing synthetic life-forms are being conducted in hopes of resolving a galactic food crisis. (Although I'd guess if the entire galaxy runs out of food, you're kind of screwed.) Once we're down on the planet, it becomes very clear that we've entered a full-blown Alien rip-off. This thing is growing in the lab:

And it's not surprising that this biological experiment eventually breaks free, given how messy and unkempt the lab is. Now things take off and start to get interesting - the mutant eats people by injecting them with its DNA, and this causes their corpses to slowly dissolve into pure protein that the beast can eat.

While the monster is running amok, Mike is busy getting busy. Not just with one of the girls in the station, but BOTH. One of these scenes occurs with the lab's security guy creepily watching on survellance cameras. Wait - they placed security cameras in the bedrooms? Who thought that was a good idea? Get ready for some neon eighties sex intercut with a sweaty creeper watching intently.


Did I mention the slime? There's a glorious amount of it. While the station's occupants are preoccupied with voyuerism and the like, the corpses of those killed by the mutant go through many disgusting stages:

I don't generally like spoiling endings, but this one is too good to not mention. As the mutant gains strength from eating nearly everyone on the station, our heroes get increasingly desperate. So desperate, in fact, that the best solution they can come up with to defeat it is to feed it a cancerous tumor that the scientist, Cal, has been cultivating inside his own body.

To get the tumor, Mike takes the obvious approach and rips the tumor out of Cal's body WITH HIS HANDS. (You can watch this scene here if you don't believe me.) After eating said tumor, the mutant instantly gets cancer and dies. The thing that blows my mind is that there was a scalpel there to perform the initial incision - why the hell did Mike not use it to cut the tumor out instead of ripping it slowly off poor Cal's liver?

You can tell that Holzmann really gave it his best shot with this movie. What the effects lack in quality, they make up for in neon, blood, and slime, which is usually a fair trade-off for me. Nothing in this film calls to mind the word "quality," but there are quite a few entertaining bits. This is exactly the kind of video rental or Saturday afternoon TV matinee that I would have loved as a kid, and I got a certain amount of joy out of it.

Also, there is an abundance of stuff like this:

Goggles, lasers, gore, and cheap creature effects - if any of these things sound appealing to you, this might be worth a look. Just note that the unrated director's cut on the Shout! Factory release (the one tagged "Roger Corman's Cult Classics") is an awful, dim, low-quality VHS rip, complete with glitches. I can't speak to the quality of the theatrical cut, since Netflix didn't send me that disc.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Step-dad Romance and Custody Battles with My Magic Ghost Dog

Ahem. Hello, everyone. At this point we're going to take a break from the usual horror stuff and talk about animals. Specifically, supernatural animals, and not the vicious, toothy, scary kind. No, these will be the loveable, glittery, golden retriever kind:

You can thank Emily at the Deadly Doll's House for whatever follows. This whole month she's been reviewing films that fall into the "Animals Doing Human Stuff" microgenre. I'll confess - I've always found these movies fascinating simply because... well, I don't have a good reason, okay? But where else can you find stuff like a Sasquatch playing basketball or a karate dog pushing canine anatomy to its utmost limits?

Since Ghost Cat has already been covered, today I'll be taking a look at My Ghost Dog, a TV movie that frequently shows up under the guise of My Magic Dog. He's more ghost than magic though, so we'll stick with the original title. (Also, just so you know, if you're not in the mood for reading, you can scroll down to the bottom and watch the video down there for the highlights.)

By the way, who's that kid on the My Magic Dog cover? He sure doesn't appear in the movie! Now that I look more closely, the cover art for My Ghost Dog shows the right kid, but this time with a mystery woman. (Also, a truly immense angelic dog.) Who pays the people that make these covers?

Anyway, on to the story. Toby lives with his step-dad. Not only are his parents divorced, but his Mom has recently passed away, which means we have a x2 divorced/deceased parent combo! (Maybe that's Ghost Mom on the cover?) Not only that, his biological dad is completely absent from the movie, and maybe dead - which would push the multiplier up to x3! This is clearly some next level children's filmmaking going on here.

For a kid with such bad luck in the parental arena, Toby is surprisingly well-adjusted. He loves his stepdad!

Just not his stepdad's cooking.

Maybe that's why he's become such good friends with Vito, the owner of the local Italian restaurant.

A perfectly normal friendship, honest.

Shut up. Perfectly normal. It also goes without saying that Toby loves his dog, Lucky. Although there's not really much to say about Lucky right now. He's not magic, or a ghost... yet.

We also have to mention Evil Aunt Violet, a wealthy old spinster who wants custody of Toby so she can dandle him on her knee like some sick living trophy (much like the toy poodle she carries everywhere). You know right away that she's bad news because she's almost always filmed at a Dutch angle. The sheer force of her malice knocks the camera off its axis.

To make matters worse, there are some bullies in the neighborhood (of course). "Don't go walking around here talking to your dog," they say to Toby, "it's going to make the neighborhood look wack. Which'll eventually make us look wack." (The transitive property of wackness in action.) These are a different breed of bully... they're not picking on Toby 'cause he's a dork or does nerdy magic tricks. They're the overseers of the neighborhood's image. Which is weird, for a couple of guys who dress like this.

Not wack at all.

Evil attracts evil, and Violet pays the bullies to steal Toby's mom's will, which will be key in his upcoming custody hearing. Just as a loyal guard dog should, Lucky pursues the theives, but is killed when he runs face-first into a speeding car. (Not too lucky, heh heh.) As Toby cries over yet ANOTHER deceased family member, Lucky's soul bursts out of his shattered corpse and rises to heaven in a spray of CG glitter.

Toby barely has time to grieve before Lucky's ghost comes back! No stranger to death, Toby is pretty matter-of-fact about this, and just continues on about his normal day as if having a dead dog following him around were just a matter of course. Oh yeah, Lucky can TALK now too, with a really dopey sort of voice. What do you want from a dog, though?

Now that his Mom's will is gone, Toby thinks that the best plan of action is to hook his dad up with another woman. I have no experience with custody hearings, so I can't comment on how effective this strategy is, only that Toby's pretty bad at matchmaking. After a date with a "weird Nazi woman" (Dad's words, not mine), he fixates on the socially handicapped new neighbor.

Notice how I haven't talked about the dog too much? There's a reason for that. Despite having the ability to talk and move stuff around... this ghost dog doesn't do a whole lot. Most of the time he just hangs out making wisecracks at Toby's expense, and occasionally causes some wacky antics to ensue. There's a fair bit of bully comeuppance that Lucky helps out with, and eventually he saves the day by finding Mom's will just in the nick of time, but overall, he's kind of a lazy smartass. I was wondering the whole time why Toby's MOM didn't come back from the dead. She'd probably have been able to you know, pick up a pen and rewrite her will or something. I guess she might not have been quite so willing to help Dad hook up with a new girl, but who knows?

There's a lot here that I haven't mentioned... like when Dad sings a police report about cops being murdered to his date. Or how Toby becomes an indentured servanat at Vito's restaurant. Or that one time Toby's friend pours a bucket of ACID on the bullies.

Stuff like that just kind of overshadows the dog. Unfortunately, this film neglects the core concept at the heart of the ADHS genre: the animal! There's nary a poop joke nor a dog fart in the entire 90 minutes, and the only montage we get is a short, sad one, set to the tune of "let's gear up to potentially maim some bullies with acid." Looking back, the best thing My Ghost Dog has going for it is a series of one-liners that continually top themselves in sheer audacity.

This movie effectively poisoned the career of everyone involved, with the exception of the director, who's now manning the helm of Atlas Shrugged, Part II. (Although, this in and of itself may arguably indicate career death.) It even snuffed out the acting career of the kid who played Toby before it had a chance to blossom. His IMDB biography states "After finishing his role in this movie, he lost interest in acting; filming 'My Magic Dog' was very hard for him." You and me both, kid.

For those unwilling to spend 90+ minutes on this film, I've created an abridged version that you can watch below, after the requisite checklist. You're welcome. Thanks again to Emily for suggesting this idea, and be sure to check out The Deadly Doll's House for more animal antics!

Animals Doing Human Stuff Trope Checklist
New Kid In Town: X
Recent Dead or Divorced Parent: Double check!
Montage: Half-check - this one sucks.
New Friendship: Half-check again - does an adult neighbor count?
Potentially Inappropriate ‘Friendship’ Between Child & Unrelated Adult (Human): Yes, sir.
Evil Corporate Enemy: X
Original Song: X
Bully Comeuppance: Check
Small Town Values: X
Back To Nature Moral: X

Total score: 5 / 10

Verdict: How can you go wrong with a concept like a Ghost Dog? Not enough Ghost Dog! Wacky step-dad dating antics are great, but if I wanted a movie about relationships, I would have picked the one... well, the one without a giant angel dog head on the cover. That said, there is enough strange stuff here that'll probably keep you entertained.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

GYMKATA's Deadliest Weapon - The Pommel Horse [DTM Video 002]

Here's a killer fight scene from 1985's Gymkata - the film that (in its own words) blended the gymnastics of the west with the fighting style of the east!

Olympic gold-medalist and Gymkata star Kurt Thomas actually invented one of the pommel horse moves shown around 0:50. (It's called the Thomas flair.) Never has it been used to greater effect than in this clip.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Some things never change... even after you're dead.

The Revenant (2009)
Director: D. Kelly Prior
Seen @: Carolina Theatre, Durham NC
Rating: 6/10

"I'm an asshole," a brash, drunk slacker named Joey states early on in this film. He's not wrong, either. His friend Bart has just been killed in a military mission in Iraq, he's making fun of a mutual friend's Wiccan beliefs, and in a few minutes he'll go on to make out with Bart's bereaved wife. Assholery is the name of the game in D. Kelly Prior's new buddy-comedy/horror film, and if there's a takeaway message, it's that not even corporeal death can extinguish it.

The Revenant has been bouncing around the festival circuit since 2009, and has recently been picked up for widespread distribution by Lionsgate. Prior has previously been involved as an effects wizard in a number of high-profile films (The Abyss, Con Air) and beloved horror franchises (Phantasm II, III and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, 4), and he picks up producing, directing, writing, and editing credits on this film. This is clearly his pet project. Don't worry though, this isn't one of those effects-guy-turned-director gore showcases (ahem, Laid to Rest). Prior shows that he's perfectly capable of writing a fully rounded screenplay and executing it pretty skillfully. Before heading to DVD this week, it got a very limited theatrical release, which is how I had a chance to check it out.

For something marketed as a comedy, this one opens on a serious note - Bart, a young soldier stationed in Iraq, is killed when he breaks protocol after a severe lapse in judgment injures a civilian child. Following his funeral several weeks later, he wakes to find that he's not quite as dead as he initially thought... Not wanting to disturb his grieving girlfriend with his semi-decomposed state, he turns to his slacker buddy Joey, who thinks that being undead is, well - kind of cool.

For the first act, character dynamics are the focus, and they work well. The characters here are all well-drawn, with the exception of Joey, whose defining trait seems to be that he can't end a sentence without saying "fuck". (I know he's supposed to be a loud jerk, but there are other, better ways to get this across.) Bart tries to figure out exactly why he's back from the dead, and his quest leads to a hilarious trip to the hospital to pick up some blood for dinner after finding out normal food won't satisfy his cravings. Slowly, he realizes that despite his thirst for blood, he is very much back in the real world. Eventually, he's going to have to deal with all the problems he left behind when he shipped out to Iraq.

Or is he? His increasing need for blood forces him to take some more extreme measures to survive, and he and Joey determine that becoming vigilantes and taking out criminals is the best way to feed Bart while simultaneously doing some good. Except that these guys are not great vigilantes. The film sort of falters here, deciding to adopt the worst parts of machismo-soaked bullshit the likes of which films such as The Boondock Saints reveled in. There's also a botched attempt to tackle racism on a level that this film is simply not prepared to handle. The result does nothing but layer on some uncomfortable overtones. (Also, while we're on the topic of discriminatory humor - Mr. Prior: fag jokes are no longer funny, thanks.)

But not all the questionable content in this part of the film is just for kicks... it's to show that Bart and Joey are the ultimate puerile slackers. Even after being offered another chance at life, they're content to waste it away chasing fantasies of vigilante herosim, drugs, and wealth. Once an asshole, always an asshole.

And here's where I give The Revenant some credit: it's not willing to let its protagonists off the hook. The plot never goes quite where you think it will. One thing remains certain though: actions have consequences. If you're going to use eternal life to act like a jerk, well, karma can be a bitch.

There's a fair amount of wit in this film, but I just wish it were more consistent. There are some truly funny moments, but there are also a significant number of flops. The plot kept me guessing, and that kept me entertained, even if I was somewhat irritated at a few of the directorial choices. Overall, The Revenant is worth a look if you're able to ignore some storytelling blips. While its detour into the vigilante justice arena isn't particularly inspired, it offers a darker-than-normal take on the asshole/buddy-comedy that eventually pays off by giving the assholes exactly what they've earned.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Do-it-yourself Surgery with MUTANT [DTM Video 001]

Welcome to a new feature in which I'll try to highlight some of the most strange, absurd, disgusting, outrageous, and downright entertaining moments from various corners of cinema. Only a few words to read here, folks, and you then you can kick back and watch the rest.

First up, from the low-budget 1982 Alien rip-off Mutant: some improvised surgery in which our hero, Mike the space pilot, pulls a tumor out of a man dying from cancer WITH HIS HANDS. Was there not a scalpel around? A knife? A pair of scissors? This clip takes the prize for most matter-of-fact line delivered while your hands are inside another human being's torso. "Oh man, I can feel it."

All the video editing I know I learned on the streets, so stick with me as I work on getting better. Enjoy, and stay tuned for more soon!

An Anthology Film Marred by Poor (s)Execution

Little Deaths (2011)
Directors: Sean Hogan ("House and Home"), Andrew Parkinson ("Mutant Tool"), Simon Rumley ("Bitch")
Seen via: Image Entertainment DVD (R1)
Rating: 5/10

I absolutely love anthology horror films. There's just something about short-form stories that seems so well suited to horror - an opinion I could probably trace back to my love of scary campfire tales and urban legends. Remember how satisfying it was to read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as a kid? You know, the ones with the infamous Stephen Gammell illustrations:

A good anthology film brings me right back to that feeling of not knowing exactly what I'm going to get, just that it's going to hit hard and fast. I also really like how filmmakers are freer to experiment in shorter films and can run wild if they choose. The stakes are a little lower when you're only asking someone to invest 20 or 30 minutes into a film, so "why?" can easily become "why not?" Unfortunately experimentation can be risky, and a solid collection of shorts seems really hard to pull off. For every Creepshow, I count at least two Chilleramas.

So it was with high hopes that I went into Little Deaths - a British horror anthology film consisting of three shorts focusing on the intersection between sex and death. First off - what a great title, right? It's taken from the French phrase, "Le Petite Mort," which refers to the antiquated notion that each orgasm spent a small part of the human soul. Now that's scary enough for a short film in and of itself. Secondly, this is a really intriguing idea  - hell, the blurry line between pleasure and pain was essentially what (personal all-time fave) Hellraiser was centered around.

The first film in the trilogy is "House and Home," a story about a nice, well-to-do couple who do their Christian duty of loving thy neighbor by inviting homeless people into their house and offering them meals. And afterward, well, then there's some literal "loving your neighbor" going on... Right away, this one sets the tone for the rest of the anthology and lets you know that no punches are going to be pulled. While there's some pretty graphic stuff here, I never felt that it crossed the line into tastelessness. More is implied than shown. The class dynamics are played up quite a bit, and the story is a nice little metaphor for the rich feeding off the suffering of the poor. At least, until the tables are turned. This is where things get a little iffy. The ending of this film didn't work for me at all. Let's just say it ends up reinforcing all the bad things that the (clearly evil) protagonists believe.

In the second segment, "Mutant Tool" (yes, it's exactly what you think) things take a turn for the stupid. There's a new drug on the streets, one that's driving Jennifer to work the streets to get her fix. Her boyfriend / pimp is involved with the production, which... Okay, I'll just say it: it involves stealing organs to feed to a giant-dicked Nazi monster whose semen is distilled to make a super-drug. If that wasn't enough, then there's the drug's side-effect, which links the mind of the user with the monster. Kind of like E.T., but - wait, no, not at all like E.T. This is not an idea I'm intrinsically opposed to, but come on, don't treat it so seriously! It's a Nazi penis monster! If all this sounds great to you, then go for it. Enjoy it without me.

Finally, "Bitch" brings things back down to earth with a tale set firmly in the real world. Peter and Claire are a couple who are into some kinky stuff. The bitch in this relationship is clearly Peter, who's constantly being dominated by Claire both in the bedroom and in real life. When she takes things a little too far (at the S.C.U.M. goth club - awesome name) and brings another guy home for a threesome (which Peter's promptly excluded from), he decides to get revenge by exploiting Claire's one fear...  The revenge sequence and finale during which this takes place wins the award for LONGEST montage ever. Seriously, we're easily talking ten minutes here. I was sold on this in the beginning, since the relationship dynamics are pretty interesting. It's really a shame that when things turn sour for Peter and Clair, this film just gets predictable.

A common thread in these films is that they take a definite turn for the worse at the ending, namely after the big reveal. Let's recap what we have. Homeless people portrayed as cannibalistic monsters, a mutant Nazi  penis, and a man who kills his girlfriend because she cheated on him. Hmm.

Not all of these ideas start out bad - they're actually intriguing stories until they sabotage themselves. When the endings do kick in, we get two ideas that are vaguely offensive and one that's just plain stupid. I'll let you pick which is which. All in all, the good ideas and very nice production are botched by carelessness. So my message to filmmakers is: make sure you're aware of what your film is saying. Otherwise you might run into a situation where you - whoops! - indirectly reinforce classism or get needlessly misogynistic. Also, ask yourselves, does this film really need Nazis? (Hint: the answer is probably no.) I want to be challenged by controversial ideas, but for that to happen they've got to be handled more skillfully than they are here.

In all honesty, I wasn't outraged at all watching Little Deaths. However dumb these films end up being, they're largely entertaining. Maybe I expected too much from the theme, but I really do think that the intersection between sex and horror could lead to some really interesting stuff (provided that everyone agrees to avoid the tired rape-revenge formula). In the meantime, I'll keep on hoping that we'll get a really solid anthology sometime soon...and head back to my Scary Stories anthologies.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Recent Horror Retch-fest: GROTESQUE (2009)

Grotesque (2009)
Director: Koji Shirashi
Seen via: Tokyo Shock DVD 
Rating: 4/10

The watchlist is almost clear! (Okay, no, it's never clear, but it's clearer.) After this, there's just one more recent film to get to before heading back to some older stuff...

Whenever I hear that a movie is banned in the U.K. (or anywhere for that matter), I get interested. Maybe it's just the lure of the forbidden, but there's something about the claim that a film contains content that Must Not Be Viewed by human eyes that makes me want to see it. I should know by now though that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is more likely to slap a label on something that's tasteless rather than genuinely transgressive.

What we have here is strictly the former. Grotesque doesn't bother with the conventions of story - it gets all the setup out of the way during the opening credits. A man and a woman are kidnapped by an unseen assailant, and they wake up in a dungeon-like torture chamber. Guess what happens next?

Yep, they're tortured. While I don't agree with the BBFC's decision to ban the film, I felt like they did a pretty good job in helping me write this review. Take it away, BBFC:

"Grotesque features minimal narrative or character development and presents the audience with little more than an unrelenting and escalating scenario of humiliation, brutality and sadism. In spite of a vestigial attempt to 'explain' the killer's motivations at the very end of the film, the chief pleasure on offer is not related to understanding the motivations of any of the central characters. Rather, the chief pleasure on offer seems to be wallowing in the spectacle of sadism (including sexual sadism) for its own sake."

Also, anyone choosing to ignore the BBFC's classification of this film shall have
their eyes put out, so as to inhibit their ability to pursue films of a similar nature. 
The way in which Grotesque tries to separate itself from the pack is by ramping up the psychological and sexual aspects of the torture. The result is pretty heinous, if that's what you're looking for.

For a few sequences, the atmosphere feels a little bit like the Guinea Pig series, in that it focuses in on the bodily mutilation so closely that everything else in the film seems to die away, and it's just a study in flesh. Except that the Guinea Pig films (at least the first couple) have a sort of clinical detachment that makes them really eerie - there's the sense that what you're seeing isn't being done for anyone's gratification, but as a genuine experiment in the limits of the human body. Not pleasant viewing material, but weird enough to be interesting. Not so here, unfortunately.

Your thanks for making it all the way through? A cartoonish gimmick at the end that undermines pretty much any mood the previous 70 minutes tried to establish. Trust me, it's really dumb. There's not a lot else to really mention about Grotesque. If you're looking for something gross, you'll find it here. This film's only for the dedicated gorehounds.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Small-town 80's-Throwback Horror Novel THE WICKED Available for Free

While I usually (okay, always) use this thing to talk about movies, I'm also sort of a big book nerd. So allow the movie-centric transmission to halt for a moment while I bring you some great news from the literary world.

James Newman's novel The Wicked is currently available as a free download! Free. But only through tomorrow!

From what I've read, The Wicked is a great throwback to a lot of the popular horror novels of the 80's (i.e. King, Simmons) - you know, where an idyllic town is invaded by a malignant evil and the protagonist has to risk his life to protect his family, the status quo, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Having lived a large portion of my life in some pretty rural areas, I enjoy this sort of formula because it runs small-town America through the wringer. (Before hitting the reset button, of course.) I also love The Wicked's pseudo-vintage cover, as it does a great job of looking like the kind of worn-out old paperback I'd pick up at the used bookstore on a whim.

This marks Shock Totem Publications' entry into the novel market, and I've been meaning to check it out since I heard about its debut. I'd highly recommend giving the Shock Totem anthologies a look for a diverse mix of short horror. The stories they feature are consistently entertaining with only a few duds, which makes them stand out in a genre with a LOT of dud-filled anthologies.

The description of The Wicked is below:

After a fire consumes the Heller Home for Children, the residents of Morganville, North Carolina thought they knew evil...

They were wrong.

Unaware of the turmoil in their new hometown, the Littles--David, Kate, and seven-year-old Becca--are moving from New York City to Morganville in hopes of repairing their own lives, which were recently shattered by an act of sexual violence.

Before long, David realizes that his family's troubles are worse than he could ever have imagined.

An ancient demon lurks beneath the town of Morganville, an unholy creature conjured into existence by the Heller Home tragedy.

Its name is Moloch.

It is hungry for the souls of the townspeople.

But most of all, Moloch wants the children. It will not rest until it has them.

All of them.

Thanks, Shock Totem!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

ABSENTIA (2011) Kickstarts Indie Horror

Absentia (2011)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Seen via: Netflix Instant
Rating: 8/10

Every year at Nevermore, there's one film that I miss and later on hear great things about. Absentia was that film in 2012. If I could go back in time, I wouldn't have a second thought about exchanging my experience with Eaters for this one. I learned after watching the credits that it was also partially crowd-funded via Kickstarter, which makes it even more impressive. Director Mike Flanagan has put a lot of effort into making this film happen. Rather than letting budgetary limitations hold his vision back, he's made the wise decision to play with the unseen to invoke anxiety. Along the way, his film deals with some pretty complex themes and simultaneously some pretty horrifying ideas.

Absentia opens with a young pregnant woman named Tricia posting missing person flyers for her husband, Daniel. Daniel has been missing for nearly seven years, and Tricia is in the process of having him declared legally dead, "in absentia". To help Tricia deal with the late stages of her pregnancy, her sister Callie moves in with her. Callie's something of a nomad, and has recently recovered from a period of drug abuse with the help of her newly adopted Christian faith. As the legal deadline approaches, Tricia begins to have dreams of Daniel, who looks more like a starved apparition than his normal self. These dream sequences are really nicely composed - it was during the first one that I realized that this movie looks good! There are a few fallbacks to jump scares, which I am usually not a huge fan of, but a couple in particular are done really well. By the time most occur, you're too invested in the characters to notice.

While Tricia is having nightmares, Callie is enjoying sobriety and life in her new neighborhood. One day while on a morning run, she encounters a strange man lurking in an tunnel that passes underneath the nearby highway. He's in bad shape, and mutters about something "sleeping". Callie quickly asks herself "what would Jesus do?" and brings the man back some food, but by the time she returns there's no trace of him, save for a pile of small trinkets, and what look to be broken watch pieces.

Things get even stranger quickly, but I'd rather not spoil too much. Needless to say, there is a link between the eerie tunnel and Daniel's disappearance. As the plot continues to deepen, Tricia and Callie learn that there may be vast malevolent forces at work behind the scenes. This film is something of a slow burn, and it takes its time allowing us to get to know the characters. That turns out to be one of the strengths of this film. When things become dark, we're way more attached to these fully-developed people than we would be to your generic pack of teenagers.

At its heart, Absentia is about dealing with loss and uncertainty in the face of the universe's indifference. The world in this film is run by unseen forces only tangentially aware of humanity's existence. Real life can be vicious too, and we're all at some point going to experience inexplicable loss in one form or another. We can try to escape the futility that we feel in the face of tragedy, but in the end, no amount of religion, drugs, or support from others is going to be strong enough to shelter us from this cosmic horror. It's a hard truth to face, and an even harder one to weave into a story, but Absentia handles it surprisingly well.

In short, Absentia is an impressively shot film with a great soundtrack and a mature take on some deep themes. Its low budget only occasionally shows. While it falls back onto some cliches now and then, most of the time it's willing to give you some credit as an intelligent viewer. This ultimate lack of an explicit answer to its questions was a wise decision, as it keeps the film from falling into the trap of an endgame info-dump. Both lead actresses handle their roles superbly, resulting in a depth of humanity that's leaps and bounds above most horror. If you're impatient, this may not be the film for you, but in that case, you may be better off checking out Detention, which is very nearly the stylistic polar opposite of Absentia.

After looking at the cast and crew's hilarious Kickstarter promo videos, I wish I could go back in time and give them some money. Instead, all I can do at this point is offer my recommendation. Absentia is currently streaming on Netflix, so go check it out (ignore the silly Quarantine knock-off poster) and support indie horror!