Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Presence (2010)

Well, here's a supernatural horror movie I'd never heard of. Judging by its star ratings (2 on IMDb, 1 on Rotten Tomatoes) it hasn't exactly won over an audience since it was released. According to its Wikipedia entry The Presence is a 'darkly romantic ghost story'. According to one Amazon reviewer it's 'eerie and beautiful'. Indeed, one obvious disparity with its online ratings is the fact that Amazon customers seem to like it a lot more than others. 

So, what's it about? The story is very simple. A woman, played by Mira Sorvino, goes to a remote cabin on a lake island to do some unspecified work - the latter is the usual remote cabin movie stuff involving reading books and making notes. From the start, however, it's clear that the cabin is haunted. This is because we see the ghost (Shane West) standing right there in the cabin from the start, a silent, melancholy presence.

The Woman (that is the credit listing for Sorvino's character) becomes aware of a presence as doors slam shut, birds slam against the outside toilet. She also finds a newspaper cutting in a book that's been mysteriously displaced. The headline, 'Escaped Criminal Drowns', is interesting because if this were a full-on horror movie it would probably be 'Escaped Murderer/Killer'. As it is we're given a strong hint that this ghost is not malign, or at least not simplistic in his/its motives.

Things get more complicated when The Man arrives - or, more precisely, the boyfriend, played by Justin Kirk. This leads naturally enough to dialogue, and we learn that the cabin has been in the Woman's family for generations. It also emerges that she was abused by her father. Things take a strange turn when the Man proposes, she accepts, but then a cliff edge collapses and they both neary fall off, losing the ring in the process. Shortly after she grows distant and eventually they have a blazing row.

At this point the ghost realises that something strange is going. (There's a sentence I never thought I'd type.) There is a second presence. A man in black (Tony Curran) is whispering nasty things into the Woman's ear. This malign figure is a demon of sorts, and tries to recruit the Ghost to his Master's cause. The deal he offers is simple enough and the Ghost nearly goes through with it. Without too many spoilers, a very traditional denouement occurs but there's a bit of a twist.

I can see why a lot of horror fans dislike The Presence. It's quiet, with lots of lingering shots of the great outdoors and a slow-paced approach, especially in the opening scenes. Writer/director Tom Provost resorts to hardly any jump scares. The score is firmly in the 'tense but not horrific' school, with much use of woodwinds in a minor key. There's no gore and the only violent moments take place off-screen (though we do hear a truly unearthly scream). And there's a final presence that some may feel is a touch too much, not to mention a bit of a deus ex machina.

As for me, well, I watched it to the end because I wanted to see what would happen next. I think it was time well-spent, and that might be the measure of a decent movie.

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