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Film / Absentia

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Absentia is a 2011 horror film directed by Mike Flanagan.

Tricia's husband Daniel has been missing for seven years. Her younger sister Callie 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 that might also be connected to other neighborhood disappearances. Soon it becomes clear that the ancient force at work in the tunnel might have set its sights on Callie and Tricia ... and that Daniel might be suffering a fate far worse than death in its grasp.

This film provides examples of:

  • All Myths Are True: This is what has Callie convinced she's right about whatever's in the tunnel. Reinforced by Daniel, thumbing through Three Billy Goats Gruff and commenting "That's not what it looked like".
  • All Trolls Are Different: Trolls are huge insect creatures which live beneath tunnels and bridges. They abduct humans who enter their territory and trap them in their dimension. It's possible to barter with them, though you'll have to figure out the rules on your own, but it's ill-advised as it also attracts their attention to those around you.
  • Angst Coma: Daniel is suffering one upon his return, due to having been kept seven years by the entity under the bridge.
  • Another Dimension: It's implied that this is where the entity in the tunnel takes its victims.
  • And I Must Scream: Daniel's apparent fate was to be trapped in some sort of hellish limbo where he was tortured repeatedly. Reinforced when two separate victims of the tunnel ask disbelievingly, "You can see me?" implying that they have been attempting in vain to communicate for some time.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: What little we know about the thing in the tunnel indicates that it's one of these.
  • Blackmail: This is what the "trading" amounts to — at least for those who know that their loved ones are being held by the troll under the bridge.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: While it's a decidedly malevolent example, whatever lives in the tunnel has some of this going on — particularly its "fixation" on trading.
  • Bodyguard Crush: An unusual variant with Detective Mallory and his relationship with Tricia. His partner later chastises him for it when he's found at the scene when Daniel goes missing again.
  • Book Ends: The movie opens with Tricia putting up Missing posters for her husband, and ends with Detective Mallory putting up Missing posters for her and Callie.
  • Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover completely misrepresents the film.
  • Downer Ending: Both Trish and Callie are trapped in the tunnel with Daniel at the hands of the troll, while Ryan is trying to convince himself they all just ran away.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The entity in the tunnel. Though described with "skin like silverfish," it's never shown well enough to say for certain.
  • Exact Words: Callie attempts to make a deal with the thing in the tunnel to make a trade herself to bring back her pregnant sister. She's not specific enough, and the thing throws back her sister's fetus instead.
  • The Fair Folk: This film's trolls operate more under this more traditional modus operandi than their namesake in settings like The Lord of the Rings. Kidnapping mortals, brokering trades, and working under their own particularly insidious "rules" are all contributing factors.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The Movie. The apparent fate of those in the grasp of the thing in the tunnel. It's the movie's tagline.
  • Foreshadowing: The gift Callie gives to her incoming niece/nephew? ''Three Billy Goats Gruff'.
  • Hollywood Healing: Scrupulously averted — both injuries Callie sustains (a bruise on the cheek/chin and a lump on the head) stay with her over the course of the final two days of the movie.
  • Jackass Genie: At the end of the film, Callie goes into the tunnel, shouting "Trade!" in an effort to get her sister back. The troll does trade... but uses the still-developing fetus instead of Tricia.
  • Kick the Dog: Partially subverted. Jamie Lambert comes to the underpass with a Yorkie in a garbage bag, presumably to try to trade for his father's life. Later, the police accuse him of being a serial killer, based on his cruelty towards animals.
  • Legally Dead: Tricia's husband Daniel has been declared 'dead in absentia' after missing for seven years. And then he comes back.
  • Magical Homeless Person: Callie finds what appears to be a homeless man in the tunnel. In fact, he's one of the victims of the trans-dimensional tunnel-dweller. Although the man himself does not have magic powers, his true problems are supernatural in origin and invisible to normal people. From the outside, he just comes across as a crack addict.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The movie goes out of its way to balance this, with those still around debating what might have actually happened to those that went missing, since the only witnesses proposing the Magic are a heroin addict, a man who'd vanished for 7 years and then re-vanished, and a man who displayed some of the warning signs of a serial killer. The final scene all-but settles the matter.
  • Never Found the Body: The premise of the whole movie, really — although the body of Walter Lambert is eventually found.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Callie really shouldn't have left behind that food for the man in the tunnel.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Quite a few of the scenes employ this, primarily to avoid reliance on special effects.
  • Police Are Useless: Callie tries to explain the trans-dimensional horror to the police after Daniel is re-abducted. Of course, the police don't believe her, and blame her fantastical stories on heroin use. Subverted at the end of the movie, when the police have a good idea that supernatural forces are at play, but are desperately trying to convince themselves that there is a rational mundane explanation.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The entity in the tunnel spits out Tricia's still-developing fetus when Callie tries to bargain with it, undoubtedly killing it.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Midway through the movie, the entity lets Daniel return home... only to literally drag him back into the tunnel two nights later. Tricia inadvertently does this to her in-laws as a result, having called them with the good news, only to greet them later with the bad.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: After Callie witnesses Daniel being carried off by the thing in the tunnel, Tricia doesn't believe her and instead assumes that Callie was just high on drugs. The police suspect the same, going so far as to order a blood test when she comes in the next night with news of Tricia's disappearance. Detective Mallory in particular is hostile.