“l know, it must seem like an eternity, but your eternity is only just beginning. Do you really want to spend it trapped here?”
The woman (Mira Sorvino) arrives at a cabin on a remote island in Oregon. At the cabin waits the ghost (Shane West) standing and staring at the woman as she goes about her daily tasks. She can’t see him, but he subtly makes his presence known. When her boyfriend (Justin Kirk) makes a surprise visit to the island, both the ghost and the woman are put out by his presence. Soon the woman begins behaving irrationally and showing the signs of spiritual oppression and possession. Is this because of the ghost or is there a darker presence in the cabin?
This movie is a Herculean trial in patience. There are slow burn movies and then there is The Presence. Over 17 minutes of the beginning of the film is dialog free. This isn’t because of some ramped up action sweeping us into the story, no, this is 17 and a half minutes of mundane, quiet behavior. The woman works on her book and the ghost glares at her. The woman listens to music and the ghost glares at her. The woman makes tea and the ghost glares at her. The woman goes to bed and the ghost glares at her. You get the idea. It was so slow, it actually intrigued me as to what the hell writer/director Tom Provost was up to. I kept expecting the burn at the end of the slow, but it really was more of a slow smolder.
The cinematography is beautiful to look at, but Shane West makes the stupidest looking ghost I have ever seen. They do make him slightly pale and darken around his eyes, but he basically looks like a clothing model with a goofy Emo haircut. He only has one line in the movie, the rest he has to convey with facial expressions and body language. Unfortunately, West seemingly only has one expression, a cross between confused and constipated, and he holds that expression the entire movie. There are moments when his presence is creepy in a voyeuristic stalker way, but he is never scary. Neither is this movie.
Some weird stuff happens. Birds regularly commit suicide by flying into the wall of the outhouse. This is never explored, but I remember my family’s summer cabin had an outhouse and if the movie’s outhouse is anything like ours, it may well have been the birds were dying of the smell as they flew by. Speaking of the outhouse, when the boyfriend first uses it, something banged on the walls forcing him to flee, hopefully after wiping. This is the only jump scare in the film. In classic movie logic, he dismisses the incident the following day as wind and tree branches, even though no tree limbs are near enough to touch the outhouse.
Justin Kirk (who I love on Weeds) is just annoying here. I really found myself hoping for his demise. Mira Sorvino puts in a good performance, but her appearance in this film is a far cry from her academy award winning days. Tony Curran adds a bit of tension as The Man in Black (hopefully with apologies to Johnny Cash and Lost), but his character is a bit too melodramatic to be effective. The great Muse Watson shows up briefly as kindly Mr. Browman and provides the setting for a subtlety creepy scene revealing Mr. Browman has a presence of his own which rides in his boat and whispers in his ear.
I did like the ghost dynamics. Provost conveys the loneliness and quiet despair of spiritual afterlife well. The idea of the spirits whispering into our subconscious was disconcerting. If the main ghost didn’t look like a lost male runway model with a migraine the movie might have provided some chills. Unfortunately, every time I saw him, I just wanted to slap the stupid look off his face.
The Presence 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation on DVD is beautiful, mostly because of the cinematography of Collin Brink. Despite the presence of some obvious banding the image is generally strong for a DVD transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is decent for such a quiet film. The surround is quite immersive and used creatively. The dialog is clear and the mix between SFX/Soundtrack and dialog well balanced.
There is an audio commentary track featuring writer/producer Tom Provost which is your standard production anecdotal stuff and platitudes for the cast and crew.
- Making of The Presence (22:00) for the most part your standard EPK covering most of the same stories told in the commentary, but with some cool insight from Sorvino
- The Presence storyboards (13:00) this also has its own commentary track with Provost and his editor, Cecily Rhett chatting up the designs.
Valiant effort from Provost, but the casting Shane West as the ghost was a great misstep. This is not a film to watch late at night, not because it is scary, but because it will put you to sleep. I know. It happened to me. There is some interesting ghost mythos, but it is buried in a very, very sloooooow movie. I wouldn’t buy or rent this movie, I would wait for it to come on cable and watch it if there was absolutely nothing else to do or if you’re restless and looking for something to help you fall asleep.
“This is my special place and you won’t even let me have that. You come here. You invade. You take over.”