Tom Provost’s The Presence

The Presence is one of those horror films that sets itself up so perfectly, so evocatively and effectively drew me in so well in the first act that it was profoundly frustrating when the rest of the film kind of loses its way, to some degree anyway. Sometimes simplicity is key and films start off with a setting and aesthetic so pure and distilled they don’t realize their story would just be more powerful if they stuck with that instead of shoehorned over-complication that muddies up an otherwise pristine experience. The first third of this film sees a haunted looking Mira Sorvino as an unnamed woman at a cabin by a lake (cue some lovely Oregon scenery), on solo vacation to wrestle with some personal demons. From the first few frames we learn there is in fact a ghost also in this cabin and about the grounds, a mute and mostly still figure played by the gaunt, angular presence of Shane West, who we remember as the boyfriend in A Walk To Remember. There’s a hushed, hypnotic aura as Mira goes about her chores around the cabin in silence, sleeps alone and wanders the grounds of the island seemingly both searching and at rest, while West’s pale-faced spectre observes her in sentinel stillness from various spots. Then all of a sudden her boyfriend (Justin Kirk) arrives from the city and, like a vacuum, all the atmosphere is sucked out of the frame as a level of dialogue ridden dramatic heft shoves its way into an otherwise unique experience. There is tension between them almost immediately as the ghost continues to observe, she is clearly not excited to have him around and he presses a marriage proposal on her that seems rushed to her. Then as if that whole angle wasn’t enough clutter, another strange supernatural being shows up personified by Scottish actor Tony Curran as some kind of demon who influences both Mira and the ghost while wearing a black suit that seems jarringly out of place amidst the otherwise earthen, elemental tone and the whole thing just speeds up way too fast. There’s also a subplot involving a vaguely sinister shopkeeper (Muse Watson) who delivers supplies to the island by boat, and this ongoing romantic tension that permeates the atmosphere. One aspect I did find fascinating was that Mira’s character was sexually abused by her father as a child and part of her journey out to this childhood property is to confront the memory and trauma of that. But why all this Faustian narrative diarrhea that feels forced into the script somehow? The opening act is SO effective, so eerie and well wrought, why couldn’t we have just coexisted with her and the ghost and the trees for 90 minutes as she grapples with her traumas among a peaceful yet unnerving nature environment? This is all of course just my reaction to the film and some may have gotten a kick out of the ‘whispering demon’ angle but to me it felt like a crippling element to an otherwise engaging and immersive setting and premise. Shame, because the first third is really something worth watching, right up until the boyfriend shows up and the dialogue starts.

-Nate Hill