Writer/director Tom Provost's The Presence is an interesting blend of horror and romance that stars the eternally beautiful Mira Sorvino as a woman who heads off to her family's cabin upon an island in the mountains of Oregon. Completely alone, save for a visit from a kindly old man named Mr. Browman (Muse Watson) who brings her supplies every once on a while, she's there to work on her writing and deal with her past. Molested as a child by her father, she has trust issues and commitment issues and so is both relieved and irritated when her boyfriend (Justin Kirk) shows up to spend some quality time with her.
What neither one of them seem to realize is that they're not as alone as they think they are. There's a ghost in the house (Shane West) who makes himself known by opening and closing doors now and then but who seems to be in love with our heroine. When the boyfriend proposes and she accepts, another spirit turns up and tries to meddle in all of their affairs. As the spirit's obsession intensifies, the woman's psychological damage is brought front and center and her behavior becomes increasingly unsettling.
You've got to give Provost for trying something different with The Presence. What could have easily been a film reliant on jump scares and horror movie clichés instead focuses on the drama that emerges between parties seen and unseen in the house. Starting with a fifteen minute sequence completely devoid of any dialogue whatsoever, we're introduced to Sorvino's character and West's character, who she can't see and who we can. This makes for a few moments of unsettling imagery, the most obvious being when she wakes up in the morning and he's curled up in bed beside her, but it also makes for a few moments that seem overdone in which all West's spirit does is GLARE at her. This carries on into the later part of the film when the boyfriend arrives, at which point he GLARES at both of them. There's lots of glaring going on throughout the first two thirds of the movie and not a whole lot more.
At the same time, the movie holds our interest simply because we want to know where Provost is going with all of this. It reaches an interesting and fairly satisfying conclusion by the time the end credits hit the screen, but be forewarned, this is very much a slow burn movie and it's as much a romantic drama as it is a proper horror picture despite what Lionsgate's packaging would lead you to believe. The film does over do the whole 'ghost is glaring at people' angle quite a bit and this takes away from thing, at times almost making it feel a bit padded but overall the good outweighs the bad here. Mira Sorvino's performance is pretty convincing, she does fine with the dramatic aspects where she lays into her boyfriend and does just as well during the film's quieter moments, of which there are many, where we really just watch her go about her daily routine unaware that she's being watched from the other side. Shane West, made up to look like a corpse to a certain extent, doesn't really get much to say here and so his performance relies almost entirely on body language and facial expressions - aside from those aforementioned moments where it's a little overdone, it works. The third key player, Justin Kirk, is also fine as is Tony Curran in his supporting role (which we won't discuss in order to avoid spoilers).
If viewers are able to stick with it long enough and don't mind the odd pacing and this turns out to be a pretty interesting movie, beautifully shot to get the most out of its gorgeous locations and featuring a great effort from Sorvino.
The Presence is a very nicely shot film that looks good in this 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation on DVD. Despite the presence of some obvious banding the image is generally strong and detailed and if it doesn't pop off the screen the way a more colorful film might, it reproduces the many earth tones used throughout the movie with a nice realism. You might spot some very minor compression artifacts in a few scenes if you look for them but otherwise there aren't really any quirks to complain about. The image is consistently clean and stable and black levels also fare well.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, though optional subtitles are provided in both English and Spanish. This is a movie that uses sound rather well, so listen throughout the movie for a subtle bang coming from behind you or to the left or right, as it ties in with what's happening on screen very effectively and helps to build tension rather well. Dialogue is always easy to understand, levels are well balanced, and there are no problems at all with hiss or distortion. This isn't a super aggressive mix, though there are moments with quite a bit of surround activity to them during the last half of the picture, but the movie doesn't really need it to be and the end result is a mix that's entirely appropriate for the film.
Director Tom Provost kicks off the extras with a pretty decent commentary track in which he details shooting way out in the middle of nowhere, the style he used for the film, casting the picture, Sorvino's performance and his admiration of it, and where some of the ideas for the movie came from. This covers some of the same ground as the twenty-two minute making of featurette also included on the disc, though there's input in the featurette from a few of his collaborators here and it also covers the use of music in the film, editing and technical aspects of the production not covered as well in the commentary. If you dug the feature, both are worth checking out.
Rounding out the extras are thirteen minutes of storyboards that are available with commentary from Provost and his editor, Cecily Rhett, trailers for some unrelated Lionsgate properties, menus and chapter selection.
The Presence is an interesting slow burn of a horror film, mixing up some well played romantic angles into the creepiness rather effectively and benefitting from some great camera work. The performances are solid and if the movie moves at a snail's pace, at least it succeeds in trying something different. Not a film for all tastes, but an interesting one that gets a solid release from Lionsgate. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.