After seven years, Tricia, a pregnant woman who lives alone in a neighborhood of Glendale, California, is finally ready to accept that her missing husband, Daniel, will not return. As she prepares to declare him dead in absentia, her sister Callie, a former addict, comes to stay with her. Together, they work to obtain Daniel's death certificate and find a new apartment for Tricia. As the date approaches, Tricia has terrifying nightmares and hallucinations about Daniel that her psychiatrist interprets as stress and guilt. While jogging, Callie runs into a gaunt man in a tunnel who seems shocked that she can see him. He introduces himself as Walter Lambert and begs her to contact his son, but she runs off. Later, she returns with food and leaves it in the tunnel, which she finds empty.
When Callie discovers a pile of small metal objects on their doorstop, she assumes they were left there by Walter, so she places them at the tunnel entrance. A man walking by advises her not to do so and deposits a trash bag in the same spot. She later finds the pile of metal objects on her bed. Detective Mallory, who has been investigating Daniel's disappearance and is romantically involved with Tricia, responds to the call and chastises the women for leaving their door unlocked in a dangerous neighborhood. In her restlessness, Callie secretly relapses into drug use. Tricia decides to finally sign Daniel's death certificate and go out on a date with Mallory, only to meet a bloody and barefoot Daniel suddenly appearing in front of her house.
At the hospital, doctors diagnose Daniel as severely malnourished, dehydrated, and physically abused. Daniel seems surprised that others can see him and can only explain that he was "underneath". He does not respond to any question and seems to be in deep fear of the tunnel in front of his house. Mallory comes by to talk with Tricia, attempting to convince her to leave Daniel and be with him. Though she refuses, the two kiss. At the same time, Daniel explains to Callie that he made a trade with an insectoid creature that hides in the walls of the tunnel. Callie investigates strange movement by the bathroom and is knocked unconscious. When she wakes, she sees a creature pull Daniel into the tunnel and through the tunnel's solid walls. Callie lies about her relapse in front of the detectives, but Tricia finds her stash and accuses her of hallucinating the incident. In response, Callie shows Tricia information she found on the internet about cases of people who went missing in the neighborhood from the past 100 years, including Walter; Lambert's son claims that he was taken by monsters.
The next day, the police discover Walter's bloody body at the entrance to the tunnel, while the man Callie saw earlier is revealed to be his son, Jamie. The police accuse Jamie of kidnapping local pets, and he implies that he has been offering them as sacrifices to recover his father. Tricia and Callie are attacked by the creature, who kidnaps Tricia. Callie files a missing person report before returning to the tunnel to offer her life in return for Tricia. To her shock, the creature interprets this as saying that she wants her nephew, so it takes out Tricia's unborn fetus instead. The creature proceeds to claim her before she escapes, leaving her empty shoe behind.
Mallory finds an envelope Callie left for him that contains her research. His fellow detective, Lonergan, assures him that they will keep the cases open indefinitely. He speculates that Jamie, whom he suspects to be a serial killer, may have killed Tricia and Callie, but Mallory chooses to believe that Callie ran away and Tricia is happily living off the land somewhere. While Mallory puts up posters, he sees an apparition of Callie standing in the tunnel, but when he investigates more closely, she is gone. As he walks away, Callie watches him from the tunnel as the creature's limb rests on her shoulder.Katie Parker as Callie Russel
Courtney Bell as Tricia Riley
Dave Levine as Det. Ryan Mallory
Justin Gordon as Det. Lonergan
Morgan Peter Brown as Daniel Riley
James Flanagan as Jamie Lambert
Scott Graham as Dr. Elliott
Ian Gregory as Mitch
Doug Jones as Walter Lambert
Connie Ventress as Ruth
Absentia debuted on March 3, 2011 at the Fargo Film Festival and opened in other film festivals on the dates given below.
The film was later acquired by Phase 4 Films for North American DVD and Video on Demand distribution.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 75% based on 8 reviews with an average rating of 6.2/10. Andrew Mack of Twitch Film wrote that the film does not live up its hype, but "it is still an effective and creepy supernatural horror." Devin Ashby of CraveOnline rated it 9/10 stars and called it "intense, haunting and refreshingly terrifying". Martin Unsworth of Starburst rated it 9/10 stars and called it an instant cult favorite. Dennis Harvey of Variety called it creepy and non-formulaic, though he criticized the lack of a strong payoff in the climax. David Harley of Bloody Disgusting rated it 3/5 stars and called it a "genuinely creepy" film that suffers from a low budget. Debi Moore of Dread Central rated it 4/5 stars and called it "both thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining." Scott Weinberg of Fearnet wrote that "Absentia certainly won't blow your speakers (or your mind), but it's still a very strong piece of independent genre filmmaking: a melancholy tale of loss that's only peripherally a horror flick, but a good one all the same."
Absentia earned various awards in categories ranging from recognition of the film itself to its screenplay, direction and editing, to the performance of the lead actors.