With it being Halloween, I was in the mood for a good ghost story. Lo and behold, The Presence showed up for review from Lionsgate, and I settled in for what I hoped to be a good and spooky flick for the season. Boasting a cast that includes Mira Sorvino, Shane West, Justin Kirk, and Tony Curran, the movie seems like it would be a sure fire winner. It quickly became apparent that the movie would defy my expectations, both for the good and for the bad.
The Presence opens with an unnamed woman (Mira Sorvino) arriving in the midst of a rain storm at a cabin on an island in the remote wilderness. We eventually learn that she is a woman with a troubled family past, and her grandparents had owned the cabin when she was young. As she settles into her break from society and sets about working on a writing or research project she has brought with her, the audience immediately sees that she is not alone. An unnamed ghost (Shane West) lingers in the cabin, standing motionless in rooms as she passes through and eventually lying unseen in the woman’s bed as she sleeps. He does not speak and is undetectable by the woman, but he looms creepily and stares mysteriously at everything she does.
The first quarter hour of the movie is consumed by the woman puttering around the cabin and its surroundings while the ghost stands and stares at here, and there is no accompanying dialogue. It starts out effectively disconcerting, but by the ten minute mark it becomes a bit much. We don’t really learn anything about this woman, the cabin, or the ghost until another human finally arrives in the form of her boyfriend, again unnamed (Justin Kirk). Only then do we start getting some conversation and backstory on these people’s lives, the cabin’s history, and what might be going on there. Even then, though, the ghost story is very obscure and never overtly explained.
No spoilers here, but the plot takes an intriguing turn midway through the movie that inspires some hope that the pace might pick up and that the film might engage the audience a bit more directly. Alas, it settles back into its sedate pace again, though there finally is something more going on than a city couple being stared at while they do chores in the woods. In the end, even the plot turn isn’t enough to make the movie memorable for much beyond its inscrutability and its excruciatingly long sequences of nothing happening.
There is a sense that the writer / director, Tom Provost, has a grand idea of the supernatural backstory and how it all ties into this woman’s life and her experiences at the cabin, but not enough of this submerged iceberg is revealed in the movie itself. While it does present some novel ideas and twists to the tried and true ghost story tropes, The Presence trips itself up with its slow pacing and more than a few moments of befuddlement.
The DVD release comes with several extra features, including an audio commentary, a featurette about the making of the movie, and a storyboard feature that includes its own audio commentary track. The Presence released this month on DVD from Lionsgate.