It increasingly seems the found footage format is so inherently friendly to the horror genre because it lets filmmakers off cheaply, allowing the movie to show you the bare minimum in effects and letting the characters’ fear (and yours) fill in the blanks.
It’s a noble aim and can be a very effective fix for a horror movie – how many films have scared us silly that showed far less blood and gore or much of the monster than we remember?
While movies from ”Jaws” to ”The Blair Witch Project” made the visuals seem better than they are by building anticipation about them (or not showing them at all), there’s something frustrating about going to the movies to see something in the fantastical genres of horror, sci-fi or fantasy and not seeing anything, and that’s one of the reasons Absence falls down.
When young wife Liz (Erin Way) loses her baby in the eighth month of pregnancy, the police want to know why. The opening scene is in the hospital where Erin is distraught and her husband Rick (Eric Matheny) is led away by the cops when they badger her a little too much and he stands up for her.
Losing her baby, you see, doesn’t mean Liz miscarried. The baby literally disappears from her body overnight, and nobody can say why. So Liz Rick and Liz’s younger brother film student Evan (Ryan Smale) – you can see where this is going – go to a remote cabin to spend some family time, regroup and heal.
Everything goes well at first, the pixie-ish Liz gradually coming out of her shell and talking about her experience, Rick being masculine and protective and the supremely irritating Evan demanding he film every minute for his film school project.
Where Liz’s baby went and what’s still stalking them is shown only as a blue light in the sky at night. It’s on screen for less than 60 seconds total and apart from the sudden and slightly brutal climax that takes about 15 seconds and doesn’t explain anything, the rest of the film is a slow process of realistic family bonding and arguing (that isn’t very realistic) and mood setting.
There’s even a pretty local girl Evan gets together with, but as soon as the proverbial hits the fan she turns her back on everyone, making you think she knows something in a kind of ancient-curse-over-the-town motif. But that’s just one aspect that’s dropped and never picked up again.
There are very few plotlines that justify running around recording everything when events turn nasty, and no matter how many characters say ‘put that camera down’, it’s very hard to justify.
As soon as the killer’s machete comes through the door of the wood cabin or the blue light blasts out of the dark sky above the woods at the car below, most normal people would forget a video camera in a heartbeat. Making the found footage POV character not only keep filming, but keep filming adequately enough for us to see something is cinematically crucial but narratively ridiculous – the essential paradox of found footage in a nutshell.
It’s been done a million times before, and much better. Even this particular found footage subgenre has been done better – without giving too much away about the reveal, watch the flawed but very well made The Fourth Kind.