Previous documentaries have been made about the sinking of the Korean ferry Sewol, in which more than 300 passengers and crew members lost their lives. But while other films concentrated on the attribution of guilt based on interviews with the people involved, In the Absence focuses entirely on the event itself, with video and sound recordings made on the day in question.
It began at 8:49 on the morning of April 16, 2014. Dashcam footage of the car deck shows cars tumbling over each other as the boat begins to tip. We then see footage filmed on a mobile phone of students struggling to stay on their feet in their cabins. The atmosphere is giggly and excited—only later does the gravity of the situation become apparent. We also hear radio communication alerting the authorities and consulting with them.
It’s disconcerting to watch the disaster unfolding in such meticulous detail, as it becomes clear that nobody is taking the lead to evacuate the passengers. Even more disturbing is the absence of a rescue operation as the ferry disappears beneath the waves.