Release Date: July 5th, 2013 (Limited)
Director: Jimmy Loweree
MPAA Rating: NR
Film Pulse Score: 1/10
Jimmy Loweree’s micro-budget feature, Absence, is appropriately titled, but not in the way the director intended. Yet another film in the wake of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, Absence does not only fail to shine, but fails to do much of anything. To make it worse, Loweree makes his failed attempt 15 years after someone else did it amazingly well without even trying to use the successes in the genre as a bar to hold himself to. I struggle with writing a review that scores a film as low as this, but there is no other way to talk about Absence than to discuss everything it did wrong, and there is much fodder for the fire.
Initially I reacted to the poor acting, and realized that it was rooted in even poorer character choices. This film is supposedly about the mysterious disappearance of a baby from a mother’s womb, but it focuses closely on the obnoxious and utterly boring characters of the men who surround her rather than the event or the mother. It crosses my mind that it might be news to this director that his performances are bad because he set them up to fail. These men have nothing to feel or say in connection to his story other than “I don’t know what happened.” Unfortunately, the writing is so piss poor, their characters also drive the performance of what should be the lead character Liz ( Erin Way) as she is constantly either deferring or referring to them. The character of this woman is completely empty, just like her alien robbed womb. Yep, trust me, the image associated with the film has more to offer than the undeveloped female character of Liz.
While the opportunity existed to produce at least 15 minutes of interesting content (read: cut it down to a short, there is no feature here) as soon as the film is really starting it is caught up in fighting a general disconnection from the original premise. The intention is to make some space for Liz’s healing character, but what could have been covered in the device of going to a cabin in the woods makes up the entire attempt at gathering together a film. This is like trying to hold water in a sieve. Absence immediately drives at forgetting all the content that was introduced to you at the on set and is so infatuated with the trivial and immature nature of the male characters that it becomes evident that the director is simply unable to tell a story that has a feminine component.
To explain what I mean, I think I’ll make a list. References to what is feminine occur in this order from a classic cinema male perspective:
1. weak, potentially insane woman is missing her baby
2. a pair of legs and ass cheeks in convenience store are surprisingly attached to a woman
3. sister wants to make sure brother is eating well, can she make him lunch?
4. make-out session in hot tub and almost sex on camera with girl who is attached to aforementioned legs proves she’s a woman
5. and (finally) potentially insane woman is somewhere in the middle of a field, so the men better go and get her
These references call for ‘woman role here’ but there is nothing interesting about them. There is nothing interesting about the male characters either, but they are annoying, loud, and they drive the script. Even in a game of charades in the middle of the film, every person mentioned, save for Britney Spears, is a man. Since the video camera is held by a guy, we have to tag along through his super dude vision of the world. Unfortunately for the director, his brand of dude-ness in filmmaking is painfully boring.
At that point you stop trying to hope the film will save itself, its failures are too many. A few structural elements, like the fact that the characters forget the nighttime alien visits by the time they wake up, almost give you a feeling that redemption is possible. The rub is that any chance at getting interested has long since expired. Bad writing, 90% empty performances, and misogyny on top is not a formula for success even at the indie level. This film actually fails to connect to the audience in any way. While Way’s emotive interviews might have served to expand the question of “Who am I and what happened to my baby?”, mostly you just wonder where the hell her character is, why it is she is so tertiary compared to the men around her, and how you are going to get to the end of this film without dying.
Rest assured, the end does come…but get this…not until after the first set of credits. A series of bad choices right up until the ends, each one of ’em. You’ll be happier watching M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. Until just recently, it was (for me) the worst film ever made.