In the interests of full disclosure, be aware that I could watch Mira Sorvino fold clothes for two hours, so it doesn’t usually take much to get me to watch one of her flicks. However, based on the trailers and promotional bits for the straight-to-DVD ghost flick, The Presence, I was less-than-enthusiastic. The whole thing smacked of “paranormal romance”; a genre that’s been steadily gaining steam in the chick-lit community. I had no interest of watching the non-corporeal equivalent of a Twilight movie, but seeing as how it was sent to me by a very nice PR person for Lionsgate, I kinda sorta had to. It turns out that The Presence isn’t really a paranormal romance at all, but rather a unique and moody supernatural slow-burner that, save for a few plot holes and an unfortunately saccharine dénouement, ain’t half-bad.
The film opens with a man (Shane West) sitting in a secluded island cabin, moving from room to room, gazing out at the surrounding lake. He watches and waits from sunrise to sunset, until the arrival of The Woman (Mira Sorvino). It is here that we see that this lonely man is actually a ghost, and, for a solid 15 minutes or so of dialogue free action, he observes The Woman as she goes about her daily routine. As monotonous as this may sound, I actually really enjoyed this part of the film as I found the approach to be both unique and a refreshing change of pace from the de rigeur boo-scares of the recent crop of haunt flicks. Personally, I’d have loved to see writer/director Tom Provost film the whole movie this way, but, obviously, that wouldn’t make for a very commercial film, so, ultimately, the silence is broken by the arrival of both The Woman’s boyfriend (Justin Kirk) and The Man in Black (Tony Curran); a mischievous spectral being who promises The Ghost powers that would make The Woman his, but only if he kills The Man.
The Presence is a beautifully shot and well-acted film that – for the first half of the movie, at least –really impressed me with its distinctive approach to the haunted house genre. I appreciated Provost’s somewhat risky decision to shoot the bulk of the first act dialogue-free, as it highlighted to the loneliness of both The Ghost and The Woman – each isolated by a different set of circumstances. Bringing The Man into the fray lent a new dynamic to the film, as The Ghost grows irritated by the interaction between the couple and, with the arrival of The Man in Black, nearly succumbs to a temptation that would assure his eternal damnation. It’s this latter bit that bothered me, however, as, not only does it reveal some glaring plot holes (The Man in Black suggests that The Ghost is be powerless, capable of only a few parlor tricks in the confines of the cabin, yet he’s able to cause birds to crash into stuff and shake the far away outhouse down to its foundations with ease), but it also turns what is otherwise a proficient and refreshingly old-fashioned ghost story into a battle between good and evil, culminating with the somewhat laughable arrival of yet another supernatural being. I know that Provost was trying to give The Ghost a redemptive moment, but it just comes off as a bit silly and almost derails the entire film. Still, there’s enough good here, especially from a filmmaking standpoint, to recommend it to casual viewers, especially those looking for a “date night” horror flick that’s more creepy than scary, and where nary an ounce of blood is spilled.
The DVD from Lionsgate is presented in a lovely 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that boasts rich colors and a surprisingly sharp picture. I did notice some blocking in darker scenes, and there are moments in the film where the screen is entirely black where it’s even more apparent, but, overall, this is a pretty strong transfer. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track offers an abundance of ambient effects, making for an immersive aural experience. Dialogue is crisp and high in the mix, while bass response is impressive, especially in the orchestral “stings” and jump-inducing slams and bangs.
Lionsgate piles on an impressive selection of extras, including an engaging feature-length commentary with Provost; Storyboards w/ optional commentary by Provist and editor, Cecily Rhett, and a short making-of featurette. Rounding out the bonus features are trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
While I wouldn’t necessarily call it “the most innovative ghost story I’ve ever seen” (as the pull quote on the box cover suggests), I will say that The Presence is unique and entertaining enough to overcome its flaws. I wouldn’t recommend this to those seeking Paranormal Activity style supernatural thrills, but, for those looking for a mildly romantic, decidedly adult , and engrossing little ghost story, The Presence is worth a look.