The two do their best to cope by being brisk and businesslike and speaking about Daniel's disappearance in matter-of-fact terms. All the same, the bizarre situation weighs heavily on them. Her problems compounded because she in the third trimester of a pregnancy, Tricia uses calming Buddhist meditation and long chats with her therapist to stem her mounting feelings of fear and guilt. Even so, she is prey to terrifying lucid dreams of her missing spouse. Carrie, meanwhile, having encountered a beaten and bloody homeless person in a nearby underpass, becomes convinced that this gloomy spot has something to do with Daniel going missing.
It would be unfair to reveal any more of the plot, but from this premise Flanagan builds all manner of chilling twists and turns. Over the course of the movie, this apparently bland corner of suburbia becomes suffused with a sense of the uncanny. The underpass, with its bleak fluorescent lighting and concrete walls scrawled with graffiti, evolves into a place of dizzying terror. In his ability to extrapolate a nightmare logic from the American dream, Flanagan is, on this evidence, up there with David Lynch, and Absentia feels very much like Picnic at Hanging Rock remade by the director of Lost Highway.
The advances in the story are complemented by subtle and teasing revelations of character. Carrie, whose sobriety is less secure than she would have her sister believe, is looking to redeem herself through selfless acts, but in the end it could be this very impulse towards goodness that endangers them. This kind of uneasy speculation lends Absentia an emotional resonance far greater than that found in routine horrors. Shot for only $70,000, the movie rarely betrays its lowly origins. The special effects, though sparse, are explosively effective. The cinematography by Rustin Cerveny is full of cool poise or lurching drama as the occasion demands, and there's even an attractive, Brian Eno-ish score by Ryan David Leack. In the lead role, Kate Parker is a wonderful scream queen, the girl next door but shadowed with doubts and just a little less apple pie than she seems. Caviar for horror fans and a dark delight for all lovers of cinema.