Bad Touch Tunnel
by Brody Rossiter
Tunnels on film have a bad reputation, and deservedly so. There’s that whitewashed dystopian one from A Clockwork Orange in which an elderly homeless geezer gets savagely beaten with an array of crudely fashioned weaponry. The murky Parisian one from Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible which essentially becomes the catalyst for the brutal destruction of several characters’ lives. I’m also pretty sure every London-based UK production highlighting gang culture also has a ultra-violent tunnel scene in which knives are brandished and the words “brap brap!” ring out – bouncing back and forth against the graffiti strewn walls of these hollow tubes of doom.
Tunnels in general probably aren’t all bad. The Channel Tunnel is very convenient and an engineering marvel to boot – it goes underwater to France. The Tunnel of Love which Bruce Springsteen named his eighth studio album after probably carries many fond memories for The Boss and a lady friend. Even the darkened underpass (basically a tunnel) of which Morrissey speaks of in There is a Light That Never Goes Out offered many chances, but ultimately such celebrated thoroughfares wouldn’t stop you from circumnavigating the creepy one down the road house during an evening jog.
Director Mike Flanagan – who recently enjoyed a good deal of success with his haunted mirror tale, Oculus – has elected to journey into the former category of tunnels: the bad touch tunnels. His partially Kickstarter funded horror, Absentia, focuses upon the pregnant Tricia, and her life in the wake of her husband’s mysterious disappearance seven years prior. The arrival of sibling, Callie, opens the door to a series of initially bizarre and later harrowing events which all link back to a mysterious tunnel nearby Tricia’s apartment.
Absentia‘s major strength as an independent horror flick is the incredibly creepy atmosphere it both quickly establishes and successfully sustains throughout. The grey/blue camera filters, the understated costume and makeup design and synthesised dirge of a score all convene to produce a deeply oppressive aura that begins at the entrance of the sinister tunnel before bleeding out further and further into the surrounding area.
Despite the expansiveness of its insidious tone, Absentia is a film which recognises its boundaries, rooting its scares in the enigmas of that which can’t be seen as opposed to poorly producing that which can. If you can overlook its humble nature and patchy characterisation, Absentia will slowly reveal itself as minimalistic yet tonally complex horror that may not have you immediately screaming in terror but will creep inside your psyche, rearrange some furniture, and ultimately leave you terrified of tunnels.