Director: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer (2006)
Starring: Margaret Laney, Eron Otcasek, Stuart Rudin
Find it online: IMDB

Absence is a story of lost, tortured souls. Mary is a bondage model, earning a living by posing for sleazy shoots. Stepdad Jeremiah is an older fella, gripped with religious fervour and determined to ‘save’ Mary from her life of sinfulness. The seemingly unconnected Harris is a guilt-ridden husband mourning the loss of his unborn child (whilst also fighting demons from his past). When Mary reaches out for Harris’s help during a chance encounter, it seems that he is the only person who can save her from the increasingly dangerous, deranged Jeremiah… If only he could get over that damn Hamlet complex.

Three semi-disconnected vignettes surround Mary’s kidnapping, converging at the end for a violent, emotional climax. Stylistically, it’s a bit like the failed Naomi Watts/Sean Penn vehicle, 28 Grams – except less pretentious and actually good.

A low-budget feature written & directed by Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer, Absence plays to its strengths. The plot is simplistic but gripping; the violence comes in short, powerful bursts – and the climax is, simply put, excellent, largely avoiding the pitfalls of melodrama. And whilst none of the characters are especially likeable, they’re well-rounded and engaging.

The acting is of a higher quality than you’d expect from a low-budget piece. Playing the bondage model/kidnap victim, Margaret Laney manages to capture a sort of abstract sadness that I rather liked. Eron Otcasek (playing Harris) also gives a great performance; I really dug the way he managed to portray the character’s emotional turmoil without making him seem too self-pitying.

But it’s the villain of the piece that almost steals the show. Playing Jeremiah, Stuart Rudin manages to make the kidnapper an almost sympathetic character; one you feel sorry for, even as he torments our poor heroine (um, taping up a professional bondage model as a punishment?? Fighting fire with fire, I suppose). It’s a testament to the script and acting that these archetypes (damsel in distress/tormented hero/villain) aren't a bore to follow.

As the characters battle each other and their own demons, the plot moves towards an inevitable, tense showdown. There’s a neat little twist, resulting in a climax (and final few shots) that packs a lovely little emotional punch.
There are one or two quibbles, but none of them major (and mostly down to budgetary constraints) – I’d have liked to see a few more twists to the plot, and there’s the occasional fit of cliché. Really, however, Absence is a rare low-budget treat that deserves to be seen.

Talking of which, the flick is actively seeking distribution now. Hopefully there won’t be too long to wait, since Absence really is a little bit good.

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