Absence has a serviceable premise for a lean, nasty home- or biological-invasion thriller. Liz (Erin Wray) is an expectant mother in her third trimester whose unborn child disappears without explanation from her body, and the distraught woman claims to remember nothing of the incident that led to this tragic, baffling anomaly. Director Jimmy Loweree initially has fun goosing his audience with the possible explanations: Text in the beginning tells us that 20 percent of violent infant kidnappings are removed directly from the mother’s body via caesarian, and Liz’s husband, Rick (Eric Matheny), immediately strikes one as a shady character, as Loweree has clearly advised the actor to borrow a few ticks from the same aloof-bearded-loony-hubby playbook that served James Brolin so well in The Amityville Horror. And what about Liz herself? Who, exactly, would fail to remember such a devastating violation? Or is she suffering from shock?
The first scene in the hospital, as clearly suspicious doctors fail to explain the couple’s loss, is unsettling and rich in possibilities, but the tension almost immediately leaks out of the narrative once we realize we’re watching a found-footage horror movie. The explanation for the first-person camera’s unceasing presence is fatally lame: Liz’s brother, Evan (Ryan Smale), who fancies himself an aspiring filmmaker, has decided that he will shoot all of Liz and Rick’s ordeal in a project that will simultaneously serve as a therapy session and school assignment.
Considering the severity of Liz and Rick’s situation, Evan’s reaction is profoundly insensitive and narcissistic even when graded on the generous contrivance bell curve of found-footage movies, and it’s impossible to believe that the couple would allow this twit to continually buzz around them with his camera and asinine observations. Loweree, clearly aware of this implausibility, tries to compensate by encouraging Smale to run wild with Evan’s theoretically amusing insufferability, as he often suggests an intolerable fusion of Ricky Gervais’s David Brent and Rob Schneider’s Copy Guy.
Absence turns out to be tease with the thriller story book-ending a tedious, shapeless chronicle of a family and the loser they can never quite shake free. We’re given enough evidence to suss out the nature of Liz’s menace by the film’s halfway point (hint: you’re watching a lo-fi variation of one of this year’s Jason Blum productions), which puts us in the unpleasant position of waiting for these jack-offs to die in an inevitably murky, anti-climactic conclusion so that something with recognizably discernible impact can hopefully happen.