3.16.2021

Battle Royale (2000)

DIRECTED BY

Kinji Fukasaku


STARRING

Tatsuya Fujiwara - Shuya Nanahara

Aki Maeda - Noriko Nakagawa

Taro Yamamoto - Shogo Kawada

Chiaki Kuriyama - Takako Chigusa

Kou Shibasaki - Mitsuko Souma

Masanobu Ando - Kazuo Kiriyama

Takeshi Kitano - Kitano


Genre: Drama/Thriller/Action


Runtime: 114 Minutes



PLOT

In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary “Battle Royale” act.


REVIEW


One of the most controversial films of its time, 2000’s BATTLE ROYALE became a major box office success in the film’s home country of Japan, while also reinvigorating The Most Dangerous Game and the Lord of the Flies concepts for decades afterwards. Considering certain scenes shot in a so-called Americanized way, it’s obvious director Kinji Fukasaku intended the film to be released for Western audiences. Unfortunately, the timing was bad as 1999 was tragic due to the Columbine school shootings, meaning BATTLE ROYALE would have never seen the light of day in the United States due to the subject matter of teenagers murdering each other for survival in a realistic way. The film wouldn’t get a legitimate release until the end of 2011 in the States, making it a cult film that many consider ahead of its time due to continued school shootings and massacres that have occurred since 1999.


The film is also considered influential due to how many times its concept has been used for over two decades. BATTLE ROYALE uses its concepts by adding a sort of reality show element to broadcast this dangerous situation for an invested audience. The survivors of these games are considered celebrities to the public for just living by killing other people in a sadistic game. It’s ironic that the year this film was released, CBS premiered the first season of Survivor - a reality show taking place on an island where the winner and some of the contestants became celebrities just for trying to survive. Reality TV culture has blown up since then for better and for worse, but BATTLE ROYALE showed that the idea of celebrity has evolved into something that anybody can achieve as long as they know how to market themselves or are part of a famous [or infamous] situation beyond their control. BATTLE ROYALE also led to a sequel, as well as to a bunch of imitators from 2007’s THE CONDEMNED, 2020’s THE HUNT and even the popular 2010’s young-adult franchise THE HUNGER GAMES [which author Suzanne Collins claims wasn’t influenced by BATTLE ROYALE, but I call bull on that one]. You also wouldn't have gotten the popular video games like PUBG and Fortnite because of this film. It shows that Quentin Tarantino wasn’t the only fan of this movie.


As for the film itself, BATTLE ROYALE still holds up really well after twenty-plus years. The premise is still powerful after all these years, maintaining a sad relevancy that could be applied to today’s society. High school has been often described as a war zone, which this film portrays well. Bullies take advantage of the situation to kill those they see lesser than. The bullied either fight back, or just try to hide long enough for everyone else to eliminate the other. Some are so traumatized by the situation and the fact that they’ll always be targets in their minds that they end up committing suicide. A lot of people have felt like this during their school years, mostly with less murder. 



There’s also a generational struggle going on in the film that’s not focused on enough unfortunately, but it’s pretty much the reason why these teenagers are part of this horrible game. The older folk feel disrespected by the youth, while the younger generation blame them for what’s going on in the world because they’re too set in their ways without looking for ways to progress for modern times. It just reminds me of this whole “Boomer” deal we see all the time now. The film never answers who is on the right here, as it seems there are both pros and cons to each side. But it makes the adults look bad as they just want to get rid of their problems by having the next generation fight over who gets the right to live, as if that’s going to solve anything. If anything, it would just make the youth more bitter and angry. I wish the film had delved into it more, but it’s clearly evident.


While the premise is great for a movie, I think it creates some problems. In particular, there are a lot of characters in this film - over 40 to be exact. While the film does focus on a certain few, it’s hard to care about a lot of these teens if they barely get any development or are just clearly there to add to a body count. There are even some scenes where characters do mundane things [like jogging for exercise - what??] during the three days of the game, as if their lives aren’t being threatened in any way. Editing these scenes out of the film probably would have helped the narrative, as well as the film’s tone and flow. The more focused characters don’t have much development either, but at least there’s an attempt to show why they act a certain way or feel the way they feel about the situation and those involved. The special edition of BATTLE ROYALE does a better job in fleshing out particular characters, revealing dark pasts that provide an insight to their psyche and their particular behavior within the game. And at least the more focused characters are easy to latch on to, both heroic and villainous, even though it would have been nice to have a surprise here and there since we know these are the ones who will most likely survive.


I also feel the film doesn’t know how to end its story. There are loose ends that I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t watched the film yet, but they’re never really explained and just brushed aside. And while the main villain is great and fun to watch, his backstory is extremely convoluted and brings more questions than answers. Plus his characterization is all over the place. Am I supposed to take this person seriously, or am I supposed to be laughing with him? I think the Special Edition tries to flesh out his motivations a bit, but it just feels more like forced padding than development. This is one of those cases where I enjoy the story and its premise, but have a few issues with how it’s told and some of the corny dialogue it uses.



The direction by the late Fukasaku is really wonderful, even if some of the narrative choices slow down the pacing at times. The film never really lets up from the get go, providing a lot of action, tension, devastation and sadistic violence through its running time. Fukasaku never shies away from the violence, showing teenagers hurt each other in vicious ways. Guns, knives, explosions, swords and even poison are used, pleasing gore hounds while upsetting those who feel the film may be pushing it too far in having non-adults hurt each other. Fukasaku frames everything like a comic book movie, giving the film energy and a sense of humor at times when it comes to the whole situation. I think Fukasaku does a really good job not being preachy or too serious with the subject matter, making BATTLE ROYALE more fun than some might feel it ought to be.


The acting is also pretty solid, with some of them acting almost as anime characters to give a lighter feel to the premise. The younger cast do acquit themselves well, convincingly portraying all types of emotions [good and bad] during this “game”. Tatsuya Fujiwara and Aki Maeda play the two innocent teens who refuse to participate in the game until they have to. Tara Yamamoto brings some complexity, mystery and maturity as foreign exchange student Shogo Kawada. And Kou Shibasaki brings a sympathetic performance as Mitsuko, justifying her sociopathic tendencies due to a tragic backstory. The highlight is Takeshi Kitano, best known as a Japanese comedian who hosted Takeshi’s Castle - or MXC for American audiences. As the film’s main antagonist, Kitano brings dark humor to his role, treating the whole situation as some sort of weird joke that happens more often than one is led to believe. He shares weird chemistry with Aki Maeda that probably leads to more questions than answers, while stealing the show in the last twenty minutes of the movie in a hilarious moment that fans of the film still talk about. The actors really make the story work and help maintain its entertainment factor, considering the subject matter that’s involved.


THE FINAL HOWL


2000’s BATTLE ROYALE still manages to hold up really well after twenty years due to a premise that has influenced other films since, as well as portraying a controversial subject matter that could still be considered relevant by many. Mixing The Most Dangerous Game concept with Lord of the Flies is pretty brilliant, giving the film a notoriety that keeps it watchable for movie audiences. While not the goriest film ever filmed, the violence doesn’t let up and some of the sequences are shot really well, still managing to make one feel sad or shocked even today. Late director Kinji Fukasaku maintains a great pace, making even the slower, more character driven and social commentary moments feel important and just as interesting as the comic book style action that’s presented. The teenage actors, as well as veteran Japanese personality Takeshi Kitano, give the premise it’s gravitas, making you care for the focused-on characters as they try to survive a deadly game. The script does present some goofy dialogue at times, and with over forty characters, you’re not getting as much character development as one would like for a movie like this. But even with films like THE HUNT and especially THE HUNGER GAMES franchise gaining more popularity and fandom in modern years, none of those films compare to the power, fun and technical greatness of BATTLE ROYALE



SCORE

3.5 Howls Outta 4

2.11.2021

Bad Channels (1992)

DIRECTED BY

Ted Nicolaou


STARRING

Paul Hipp - Dan O’Dare

Martha Quinn - Lisa Cummings

Aaron Lustig - Vernon Locknut

Ian Patrick Williams - Dr. Payne

Charlie Spradling - Cookie

Robert Factor - Willis

Roumel Réaux - Flip Humble

Rodney Ueno - Moon


Genre - Comedy/Horror/Science Fiction/Music/Aliens/B-Movie


Running Time - 88 Minutes



PLOT

An alien determined to capture human females takes over a radio station to do it.


REVIEW

It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed a Charles Band produced film, but here we are with BAD CHANNELS - one of the oddest horror/sci-fi films I’ve seen in a while. I shouldn’t have been surprised since it was directed by TERRORVISION and SUBSPECIES director Ted Nicolaou - two films I really need to rewatch since they’re both pretty rad. BAD CHANNELS isn’t as good as either of those two films, but it has some moments within its short 88-minute runtime. 


BAD CHANNELS may be one of the easiest, or maybe one of the more difficult, films to give a full review to because there’s really not much to the film. It has aliens [or one alien and his robot companion] invading a radio station and using music to lure hot women into tiny jars… to kidnap them I guess? The film never really makes it clear why these aliens are manipulating women into jars, which is a big issue in itself. The film also has news reporters who are obsessed with the radio station’s DJ [I guess he’s a big deal in this town]. But other than that, there’s not much else going on. 


The main purpose for this film doesn’t seem to be about the alien invasion, but to promote unknown rock bands for the Full Moon Entertainment audience. After some research, I learned that these bands were signed to Moonstone Records, which is owned by Full Moon Entertainment. To be honest with you, the music nor the videos are anything memorable enough for me to rush out and buy the bands’ music. The videos use the movie locations. One is inside of a diner. The other is in a school gymnasium. And the other is in a hospital. They’re not really directed all that flashy or in an MTV-style at the time. I will say that the last song, this metal song with clowns, was actually pretty good and made use of the horror genre element. And while the videos themselves aren’t directly all that interestingly, having the female victims being shown in reality dancing to music no one else can hear [while the people around them look on curiously and disturbingly] is a nice touch and shows that these videos are nothing but illusions in the victims’ minds. But honestly, the film doesn’t have much of a plot and it seems BAD CHANNELS was more focused on getting these unknown bands some notoriety that probably never happened.



The characters aren’t all that likable either, even though they all seem to have personalities that separate them from others. DJ Dan O’Dare is a manic Lothario who is pretty much the narrator of what’s going on with the aliens inside of the studio, since he’s trapped there. He has unresolved sexual tension with ace reporter Lisa Cummings, who is kind of a bitch and snotty - making me wonder why Dan would be interested in her. The cops are clueless. Lisa’s news channel bosses want to take advantage of the situation and use Lisa to make themselves bigger than her. The doctors are clueless. The aliens’ victims are ditzy, ignorant, or just plain dumb - mainly getting ahead in life due to their hot looks. Besides Dan really, none of the other characters make much of an impression character wise. 


I will give a lot of credit to the creature designs in BAD CHANNELS though. The film is obviously using a cheap budget, but the filmmakers make the most of it. The main alien is pretty much a dude dressed in black pleather, while wearing a giant boulder for a head that looks like a Jiffy Pop with a clear visor in the middle so they can see. The robot has google eyes while wearing a clear bowl on its head that reminded me of Bill Moseley in SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3. We also get this green gunk that grows like fungus, which also happens to move if music plays nearby. And we also get this three headed plant monster that Audrey II would laugh at, but it doesn’t look too bad. And the effects of the girls inside these tiny jars is done well and believable. 


I even thought the direction by Ted Nicolaou wasn’t too bad, besides the music videos that ruin the film’s pacing a bit. The film looks like your standard 90s straight-to-video fare, but a better-than-average looking one. The film moves quickly. The special effects are used sparingly and presented well. It looks and feels like a Full Moon Entertainment B-movie, which is the exact point. Nicolaou also connects the film with the DOLLMAN series as well, which is a nice touch for fans of that series.



The acting isn’t anything great, but the cheesiness of it entertained me more than it should. Paul Hipp is probably the “best” actor, as he’s given the most to do and carries the film pretty well. He has a manic energy and his descent into madness while being taken hostage by weird aliens is pretty amusing. Original MTV VJ Martha Quinn is okay in her role as reporter Lisa. She plays bitchy well, but doesn’t really get much to do but stare, look confused, and carry a camera to shoot footage. The other actors play their roles as goofy and silly as possible, which works well with this type of movie. The actresses who become alien victims play the video vixen roles well and make their ditzy roles fun to watch. I was honestly expecting worse when it came to the acting, but the hamming and being aware of what film they were in helped the entertainment value.


And I have to mention the cool Blue Oyster Cult score, which is a pretty big get for Full Moon Entertainment. Sure, the band wasn’t as popular as they were in their heyday during the 70s and early-80s, but it’s cool to have a solid band working on your movie. I dug what they brought to the table and the film is probably worth watching just for the score alone.


THE FINAL HOWL

BAD CHANNELS is an odd movie that seems to exist to promote three unknown rock/metal bands rather than tell an interesting story about aliens invading a radio station to shrink hot women into glass jars for whatever reason. It’s unfortunate since the music videos aren’t all that interesting or memorable to watch, leaving us with a sci-fi/horror-comedy that barely has a plot and doesn’t explain what is happening to many of these characters at all. We don’t know why these aliens came to this particular town. We don’t know why these aliens are shrinking beautiful women into glass jars. All we get are some pretty unlikable or silly characters that become less amusing as the film goes.


That being said, the special effects are pretty well done considering the film’s small budget. The hammy and cheesy acting is more entertaining than it has any right to be. Director Ted Nicolaou’s direction is more than passible and keeps BAD CHANNELS at a good, short pace despite these random music videos ruining the flow somewhat. And the score by rock legends Blue Oyster Cult is pretty rad and quite an impressive get for this film. It looks like a Full Moon Entertainment feature. And it feels like a Full Moon Entertainment feature. BAD CHANNELS is a film that pretty much met my low-to-average expectations and is only worth a look for anyone who enjoys Charles Band produced movies [especially the DOLLMAN series, which this film is slightly connected to]. Otherwise, stick with the much better SUBSPECIES or TERRORVISION for your Ted Nicolaou fix.



SCORE

2 Howls Outta 4



1.26.2021

Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989)

DIRECTED BY
Sandor Stern


STARRING

Patty Duke - Nancy Evans

Jane Wyatt - Alice Leacock

Fredric Lehne - Father Kibbler

Norman Lloyd - Father Manfred

Peggy McCay - Helen Royce

Brandy Gold - Jessica Evans

Zoe Trilling - Amanda Evans

Aron Eisenberg - Brian Evans


Genre - Horror/Supernatural


Running Time - 95 Minutes



PLOT

The demonic force lurking in Amityville for over 300 years escapes to a remote California mansion. It encounters a struggling family living together by uncertain means. The beast manipulates a little girl (Zoe Trilling) by manifesting itself in the form of her dead father. Soon it will be able to possess her completely… is it too late for a young priest (Fredric Lehne) to defeat the demon and end the curse?


REVIEW

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a film from THE AMITYVILLE HORROR franchise, probably because there’s like 20 of these movies in the series and I’ve only been a fan of the two [of the four] that I’ve watched. I’ve always made it clear that I find the 1979 original to be a dull piece of horror, preferring the 2005 remake over it because it does more with the story. 1982’s AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION is probably the best of the films I’ve watched [and it seems to be the best of all of them, if you believe the consensus], while 1983’s AMITYVILLE 3-D was just a bad flick that existed only for 3-D effects that weren’t great to begin with. So I put the franchise out of sight and out of mind for a while.


Then out of the blue, I stumbled onto Amazon Prime and noticed a bunch of the AMITYVILLE films were free to watch. I read the description for 1989’s AMITYVILLE: THE EVIL ESCAPES [which I’ll call AMITYVILLE 4 for the rest of the review] and I found myself intrigued. Former TV star Patty Duke in a horror film? A lamp that possesses and kills people? A story that doesn’t take place inside the Amityville House? I figured I could at least give another film in this franchise a chance to see why so many of these damn films were made.


So after 90 minutes, I’m still wondering why over 20 of these films have been made, with more probably coming. But while AMITYVILLE 4 isn’t a good movie in the slightest, at least it had me laughing unintentionally - which is more than I could say for the first and third films. I couldn’t help but be entertained by this dumb movie.


AMITYVILLE 4 is a film that was made for television, since the previous installments, besides the first one, didn’t really make that much of a dent at the box office. It’s also apparently the first film in the series that focuses more on an object that was inside of the infamous house instead of the house itself. That makes sense, considering that having families dealing with a possessed house was probably getting old fast. It also helps the television limitations in terms of budget as the scares only need to focus on a single object than a huge house. And despite the high definition of the transfer I watched [the film does look better than it probably ought to], you can definitely tell it was made for TV with its less than stylish direction, cheap special effects and melodramatic acting that won’t wow anyone. It’s not entirely a bad thing, since I personally find charm in things like this. But it’s definitely a step down from the previous installments, as the budget allows more drama but not enough horror to match the earlier films.


AMITYVILLE 4’s issue really stems from the script. It’s honestly just a retread of earlier supernatural movies dealing with demons and possession. A vulnerable child, who is grieving her father’s passing, succumbs to this evil, demonic lamp and becomes possessed by it. The demon possessing the lamp also makes her believe that her father is speaking through the lamp, building her attachment and addiction to it. That’s a perfectly fine setup, but it never goes beyond that. There’s no character study or anything psychologically thrilling about it that’s all that memorable. It doesn’t help that the other characters are oblivious to it, or even oblivious to things that just happened seconds prior before just forgetting they happened and never bringing them back up again. The characters are also pretty forgettable themselves, or just plain unlikable. I honestly couldn’t feel for any one in this film besides Father Kibbler [the only one with a real story arc], which made all the weird stuff happening around these people the more entertaining and laughable. 

The film also didn’t have the guts to hurt any of the main cast really, relying on bringing in random people [plumbers, electricians, etc.] to build the film’s body count. These characters die or get hurt in silly ways - like getting a hand mutilated by a possessed garbage disposal or a pipe bursting in cartoonish effect to leak this black goo that drowns a trapped plumber. The only character of note that bites the dust is the housekeeper, who almost gets murdered by a possessed chainsaw handled by the family’s son, but unfortunately meets her fate by being strangled by the possessed lamp’s plug wire in the attic.


Speaking of this lamp, am I [or anyone else] supposed to be afraid of this thing? It’s an ugly lamp that belongs on the set of 1985’s RETURN TO OZ. When the demon shows his face on the lamp’s huge bulb, it’s more hilarious than frightening. And this lamp can do a whole lot without being plugged in - like hiding telegrams for the rest of the film, making electronically equipment and utilities go crazy, and even telepathically driving an empty car away from the property for some unexplained reason. It also kills people with tetanus, which is a rare way to murder someone in a horror film I guess. At least with a haunted house, you can have the walls bleed and flies appear on windows and stuff. When it shouts “Get out!” at you, being trapped inside is the last thing you want. A lamp is a lesser evil, even if it can do similar things since it came from the possessed house to begin [which wasn’t destroyed, negating the events of AMITYVILLE 3-D]. I feel like this type of story would have lended itself better to an hour-long television series, like a Friday the 13th: The Series or Tales From the Darkside. The story would have moved faster and gotten to the point quicker. Even the film’s conclusion is kind of lame, as things get resolved way too quickly considering everything that happened before the final act. Ninety minutes doesn’t do a whole lot for me, since a lot of it is just uninteresting family drama and filler.


The direction by Sandor Stern, who was a writer on the original 1979 film, is passable. Stern doesn’t provide a ton of style in terms of visuals. AMITYVILLE 4 looks like a TV movie. It feels like a TV movie. You can tell where ad breaks were probably edited in during its presentation on NBC at the time. The only thing flashy about the film are the cheap effects when it comes to the lamp and its powers. You get the standard blood on the walls and floor, flies buzzing around, and usual demonic activity presented in the first film - but on a cheaper budget. From what I read, Stern didn’t shoot the gorier scenes in the home video release, as NBC wouldn’t allow that stuff at the time. It’s funny because those moments actually help AMITYVILLE 4 be more entertaining than it has any right to. So thanks for the secret NBC Studios director who added those scenes in! It was appreciated. But there’s nothing terrible about Stern’s direction, but it’s not spectacular either. It’s exactly what you would expect.


The acting isn’t spectacular either. Patty Duke is an odd choice to star in an AMITYVILLE film. She’s in a horror film but she’s acting as if she’s in a dramatic Lifetime movie. Jane Wyatt seems to be having a bit more fun as a snooty grandmother who plays it passive aggressively against her on-screen daughter Duke. Brandy Gold just screams, sulks and tries to act evil as youngest daughter Jessica. Zoe Trilling and Aron Eisenberg don’t get to do a whole lot but play confused and concerned children. Fredric Lehne is the only one who gets the real good dialogue and handles it better than he should, considering the ridiculous things he has to say. It’s not the worst cast and they all have memorable things in the film worth a laugh or two during the movie’s runtime. A better script would have brought out more, but I’m not expecting that from an AMITYVILLE sequel. 


THE FINAL HOWL

AMITYVILLE: THE EVIL ESCAPES is the first sequel in the series to go straight to television and it shows. The film doesn’t hide it budgetary limitations, looking and feeling like a TV movie with cheap special effects that are more funny than scary. The story is nothing original, pretty much rehashing elements of the previous installments with the only difference is that a lamp is possessing people and causing havoc rather than a haunted house. Sandor Stern, a writer for the original THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, does a passable job visualizing and directing the narrative within a made-for-TV format, while the actors [led by Patty Duke and Jane Wyman] do the best they can with the material they’re given. To be honest, this story would have lent itself better to a television anthology format - like a Friday the 13th: The Series, Tales From the Darkside or something like that. All in all, it’s not a good film but it had unintentionally funny moments that entertained me more than I thought it would. Definitely more fun to watch than AMITYVILLE 3-D, but nowhere the level of AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION. I’ll continue through this series to see if there are any surprise gems within, or to be possessed by masochism if they just go downhill from here.



SCORE

2 Howls Outta 4



1.10.2021

Absentia (2011)

DIRECTED BY
Mike Flanagan 


STARRING

Katie Parker - Callie Russel

Courtney Bell - Tricia Riley

Dave Levine - Det. Ryan Mallory

Justin Gordon - Det. Lonergan

Morgan Peter Brown - Daniel Riley

Doug Jones - Walter Lambert


Genre - Horror/Mystery/Thriller


Running Time - 92 Minutes



PLOT

Tricia’s (Courtney Bell) husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) has been missing for seven years. Her younger sister Callie (Katie Parker) comes to live with her as the pressure mounts to finally declare him ‘dead in absentia’. As Tricia sifts through the wreckage and tries to move on with her life, Callie finds herself drawn to an ominous tunnel near the house. As she begins to link it to other mysterious disappearances, it becomes clear that Daniel’s presumed death might be anything but ‘natural.’ The ancient force at work in the tunnel might have set its sights on Callie and Tricia - and Daniel might be suffering a fate far worse than death in its grasp.


REVIEW

While he had directed some independent films prior to this film, 2011’s ABSENTIA was Mike Flanagan’s breakthrough film into the mainstream success he has now. I’ve known about this film for a while, but never took the chance to sit down and actually watch it despite all the praise it has received the past 10 years. In fact, I haven’t watched much Flanagan stuff at all besides 2013’s OCULUS [good] and 2019’s DOCTOR SLEEP [loved] - as well as his 2016 Haunting of Hill House Netflix series that I enjoyed. So it was cool to see where the director started from before given a real budget to really showcase his vision that he’s known for now.

ABSENTIA is a real slow burn of a film, taking its time to build a supernatural psychological thriller that honestly presents more questions than answers by the film’s final second. The slow pace obviously lets the two lead characters, pregnant and mourning wife Tricia and her addict sister Callie, carry the film with emotional and dramatic beats as they deal with the events of the narrative. Both try to use religion to deal with their grief and demons, which doesn’t exactly work all that much by the end. Tricia tries to move on from the fact that her missing husband has been gone 7 years and can be declared legally dead by getting involved with the lead detective for the case, even getting pregnant by him. Callie also comes across strange, malnourished people inside a tunnel minutes by Tricia’s home, leading to strange happenings inside of Tricia’s home. Things take a turn when Tricia finally has a first date with her detective lover, only for her missing husband to return the moment she leaves the house. This should be a joyous occasion, except that the husband is malnourished, confused and acting weird to the point that he doesn’t seem himself anymore. Things just get weird after that, but I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t watched.


While the slow burn and ride from beginning to end is never boring and actually contains some creepy moments, I feel like the film never really tells you anything. Yes, we see people grieve over their missing loved ones, struggling to move on thinking they’ll never return after so many years. We also see people sacrifice their own well-being to help another person who is struggling, only for it to bite them in the butt when past demons are used against them. There are a lot of human elements here that work and the drama is well written and presented nicely. But we never really learn why people in this particular area of town have gone missing for decades. We see glimpses of the culprits but never really learn who, or what, they are. And while the ending is a bit sad and unsettling, it doesn’t really answer anything either. I guess sometimes it’s good not knowing what the real deal is, but an audience should be given something tangible to chew on in a standalone feature. A film or a story shouldn’t leave one with more questions than answers.


I also thought the characters weren’t the most interesting or deep. Considering there are only a handful of main characters in the film, I would know or even care more about them. Tricia mourned her missing husband, but when there’s nothing about their relationship that makes me want to invest in this subplot beyond the mystery behind it, that’s kind of an issue. There are other moments where opportunities arise for more depth to happen, but the film would rather keep things on the surface than to get any deeper than that. Maybe it was a budgetary issue. Maybe it was just average writing. But mysteries should be explored and I feel ABSENTIA didn’t do that enough for me.

As for Flanagan’s directing, the first thing that should be said is that ABSENTIA is not a pretty film to look at. Considering the film was only made for $70,000 from Kickstarter funding, you’re not expecting a polished, studio looking film that will wow audiences with its cinematography. The film is very muted and has editing issues at times. But then you get flashes of what Flanagan does really well, such as the use of monsters hiding in the background, smart choices of sound design, and a great use of shadow and light. Considering the budget, the malnourishment look for the missing people look pretty damn good, even presented as kind of creepy at appropriate times. Not all the jump scares work, but the camera tricks accomplish more than they don’t. It’s easy to see how Flanagan became a bigger name in the genre because he definitely has a style that stands out.


The acting is good for the most part. ABSENTIA is carried by the two lead actresses - Courtney Bell and Katie Parker. Parker, in particular, is really good as Callie. She’s the film’s guide in figuring out what’s going on and believably deals with aspects of the mystery, while Bell is doing more of the emotional beats but doesn’t get to do as much as Parker. But the two actresses share nice sibling chemistry and play off of each other very well. The other actors are decent-to-good, while frequent Flanagan collaborator Justin Gordon probably hams it up a bit too much as a skeptical detective who feels like he should be in another movie. And it was a nice coup to get Doug Jones to appear in a short role, considering Flanagan wasn’t a huge director yet. 


THE FINAL HOWL

ABSENTIA is the film that got Hollywood in noticing director Mike Flanagan, making him a force in the horror scene today. The film itself, done with a $70,000 budget, is a good piece of moody and atmospheric mystery-drama with those horror flourishes that Flanagan has made a staple in his direction for the past decade. It has a nice use of shadows and light, creepy people hiding in the background when you least expect it, and camera tricks that succeed more than they don’t. The narrative itself is bleak - dealing with loss, addiction, and the struggle to move on from the demons that continue to haunt. It’s too bad that the mystery is never really solved or explained in a way that’s satisfying by the film’s end, leaving one with more questions than answers. Also, while the characters are relatable on the surface due to the premise, there’s not much to them depth wise which makes it harder to care about what happens to them in the long run. Thankfully, lead actresses Courtney Bell and Katie Parker bring their “A” games to their roles, carrying the film as best as they can. And the film’s slow burn keeps one invested, rather than turned off, as new things are always presented. It won’t be for everyone, but ABSENTIA is worth a look if you’re in the mood for something downbeat and thought-provoking for 90 minutes.



SCORE

3 Howls Outta 4



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