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DIFF Review…The Presence

Writer/director Tom Provost brings ghost story to the screen that is part Alfred Hitchcock, part Rod Sterling and, to some degree, Agatha Christie while delivering the creepy goods those names are known for.

From the beginning, The Presence creates quite an impact with an almost over-powering score that builds throughout the opening credits. After that it gets quiet, a little too quiet. The story begins with a melancholy Shane West mulling around a stark wooden cottage looking a bit lost. Then it switches focus to Mira Sorvino who is heading to her family’s remote cottage to do some work for her undisclosed profession. Turns out they’re both going to be staying at the same cottage but with one important detail; Shane West is no friend of the family. He’s a ghost and as such is confined to the cottage. Further, he’s taken a liking to Mira’s character; named simply The Woman.

When The Woman‘s boyfriend shows up the ghost goes beyond hopelessly staring as his new crush, and things go from atmospheric to downright creepy. The Woman starts to take on an uncharacteristically angry side and this ghost isn’t as harmless as his cold stares have let us believe. For you “been there, done that” crowd, hold on a minute. There’s something deeper and decidedly more wicked going on here than this paranormal version of Three’s Company lets on and it gets good once you learn what that is.

The slow parts can be off-putting and the lack of a story may drive others away but the film is more concerned with atmosphere than exposition or cheap thrills and that’s to Provost’s credit. We’ve all seen ghost stories that go for trite “boo” scenes. This has some that you just can’t avoid but most you won’t see coming and are further accompanied by a score that’ll rattle you pretty good. The actors deliver some solid turns and the film plays out like well acted stage theater.

The Presence is billed as a “romantic ghost story” and that’s a bit misleading. It’s more like “a ghost’s story of loss and redemption“, but that won’t look as enticing on a billboard. People expecting something actually romantic like Ghost or as spiritually vivid as The Exorcist should seek another film. But if you like something creepy that builds and reveals itself over time (a la House of the Devil) then this should be right up your alley.

Admittedly, it’s not for everyone (just ask Mrs. GoSeeTalk) but certainly enjoyable if you like films that take slow boat approach and are ripe with ambiguity. The Presence lets you draw your own conclusions (and even make up your own story at times) and it’s refreshing as you don’t feel like you’re getting spoon-fed a plot you’ve seen hundreds of times before. Provost tells a unique ghost story that’s layered but does a lot with simplicity. It’s impressive if you want to get something different out of a paranormal tale and enjoy some unexpected scares.

Click this link for more info and films in the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival.


  • Dan

    This sounds like something I’d enjoy. Just watched Case 39 and was surprised how much I enjoyed that.

    • MarcC

      This has less effects and a slower pace as opposed to Case 39 (wasn’t for me) but if you like things with a slow pace that build well, this should be up your alley.