In this darkly romantic ghost story, a woman travels to an isolated cabin where she is stalked by an apparition who inhabits her space as his own. With the unexpected arrival of the woman’s boyfriend, the dark spirit’s haunting grows obsessive. Soon the woman begins to exhibit weirdly irrational behavior as the thin line between sanity and possession begins to unravel. Is she battling her inner demons, or is a much darker presence threatening them all?
The presence referred to in the title of this wonderfully moody and atmospheric little ghost story makes itself known right away. He is indeed a ghost. This brooding, pallid specter (Shane West) sits, stands, peers out the window, and provides an all-around haunting of a rustic, beautifully preserved cabin in the dreary wilds of Oregon. When a human woman (Mira Sorvino) shows up for an extended stay, he keeps a close watch on her too, and The Presence
plays a beguiling game of mystery storytelling without any dialogue for almost 20 minutes. Writer-director Tom Provost reveals very little about the ghost--who he was, what he wants, why he's such a vigilant sentinel--and only a little bit more about the woman (none of the characters, human or unearthly, are identified with names). The ambiguity plays well for a while and exposition is kept to a minimum throughout, even after the woman's boyfriend (Justin Kirk) pays a surprise visit and sticks around for several days. There's another presence that turns up (Tony Curran) midway through, and though presence A keeps resolutely mum, the new one has a lot to say to both his ghostly colleague and the woman. To the woman it whispers messages of evil, and psycho-inducing hatred that bends her mind and ultimately poisons her relationship with the boyfriend. To the other ghost it speaks plainly and almost affectionately about the "life" it could lead if it would do what is necessary to be set free from the eternity of staying remote and alone only to haunt the neat, cozy cabin. The humans can't see these phantoms, but they both experience their presence, albeit in different ways. Towards the end there's a rather lengthy bit of explanation unleashed in a torrent of rage by the woman, and it feels somewhat out of place in a story where the less-is-more ethos is its best attribute. In fact, such dialogue as there is all sounds rather clunky and unnatural. The best things about The Presence
are its gorgeously drab cinematography and its languorous yet deliberate pacing that notches up the tension without the need for "boo!"s or splatter violence. There are a few scary parts executed with the same measured intent, but mostly this ghost story strives to great effect for spooky ambiance. In the movie's concluding scenes a third presence is introduced (Deobia Oparei) that seems to have ultimate authority over human and spiritual realms alike. The final shot isn't exactly a twist, but it's a subtle and creepily effective ending that ingeniously captures the restrained mood of The Presence
. Disc extras include commentary from Provost, a run-of-the-mill making-of featurette, and an interesting storyboard sequence backed by remarks from Provost and editor Cecily Rhett. --Ted Fry