Creating an original idea and executing it are very different things. The Presence manages to succeed at giving a unique story, but its implementation leaves something to be desired. Atmosphere takes hold in director Tom Provost’s debut supernatural thriller, following a woman (Mira Sorvino) visiting a cabin in the woods as an apparition stalks about. Where the film really makes its mark is how it turns genre staples on their head, but getting there may leave some underwhelmed. The film builds to an exciting climax that will leave many talking due to the interesting notions it puts forth or the confusing way it is expressed—but they will be talking. Hit the jump for my full review.
A beautiful cabin sits on an island that has a mysterious presence (Shane West) haunting it. Unmoving, we are left to wonder whether the apparition is merely able to observe or if it can take any course of action. When a woman (Sorvino) shows up to simultaneously explore her childhood summer vacation getaway and get some work done, she has no knowledge of what lurks within the cabin. Strange occurrences start to multiply when her boyfriend (Justin Kirk) drops by unexpectedly, and the presence suddenly becomes more active. Not all is as it seems as the ghost’s reasons are revealed and the seemingly happy couple’s rocky foundations are brought to the surface.
Provost’s script calls for the groundwork of the film to begin without any significant dialog for the first third of the 88 minute runtime. This sets the mood of the film and also hints at the pacing. The Presence is all about atmosphere as the apparition is shown to the audience as he gazes at Sorvino’s character in a haunting way, but his appearances are rarely given any musical cue. Instead, her daily chores are the focus as we are left to ponder about what the ghost’s intentions are. Because of this, some audiences will be turned off, but Provost is smart enough to know that inaction can cause disinterest.
That’s when he begins setting off a series of humorous occurrences that build into something more eerie. Recurring trips to the outhouse become intriguing when birds continually smash into the structure for no apparent reason. At first, it garners laughter, but by the second time one can’t help but wonder if something more sinister is at play. As the tension rises, it’s cut down when the boyfriend makes his appearance. However, he brings his own set of problems to bear as it becomes obvious he is unsure if it was alright to drop by unannounced.
As the story evolves, the woman’s history is explored and the ghost becomes more than just a mere observer. There is a notable shift in tone as the story finally picks up pace and secrets are revealed. However, some of the dialog and interactions feel choppy and forced. The elegance setup in the opening portion of the film is shattered at the beginning of the third act. There was even a smattering of laughter during some of the more tense moments and confused murmurs as the film drew to its conclusion.
All of this is without mention of the acting in the film. Sorvino is as endearing as ever, but her character has her share of flaws. When The Presence works, it’s usually during moments free of dialog. Because of this, some of the phrases Sorvino is given feel hollow and off. Additionally, her chemistry with Kirk stalls in the opening moments. Their interactions feel awkward and the audience is left to guess at how new the couple is. Shane West has a brooding likeness to him that is accompanied by his dark voice. Unfortunately, he is rarely able to showcase more than his visual spectrum of talent, but he does a commendable job of just standing about. One has to wonder how the probable read-throughs went with him in attendance.
Sometimes the idea a film puts forth is strong enough to be worthy of watching, even if the payoff falls short. The Presence isn’t for everyone, but it does a laudable job of giving the audience ideas to ponder. Considering the film lasts less than an hour and a half, the first and second half are incredibly different. That is an unfortunate fact because the most intriguing portion of the film lies within the uneven and rocky finale. If you can stomach the good with the bad, The Presence should prove worthy of contemplation.
Note: DIFF stand for the Dallas International Film Festival.