The Presence opens with nearly 20 minutes of near-silence. We watch as an unnamed and emotionally unstable woman (Mira Sorvino, who is literally listed in the credits as having played The Woman) arrives at an isolated cabin. As she settles in for what is obviously a very needed vacation, she goes about her business without saying a word. This is because she believes herself to be alone. However, those of us watching know that this isn’t true. She is sharing her cabin with a silent and initially passive ghost (Shane West) and, though she can’t see him, those of us in the audience can.
Eventually, the silence is broken as other visitors come to the cabin. There’s the boatman, Mr. Browman (Muse Watson). There’s the woman’s boyfriend (Justin Kirk) who unexpectedly shows up to ask the woman to marry him, a proposal which visibly upsets the ghost. Finally, there’s the Man In Black (played by Tony Curran). Though the woman cannot see the Man In The Black, she can hear him when he whispers dark thoughts into her ear.
The ghost, however, can see the Man in Black. The Man In Black offers the ghost a proposition. If the ghost kills the woman’s boyfriend, the Man In Black will allow the ghost to leave the cabin.
First released back in 2010, The Presence is a film that got (and gets) next to no love from the critics and from the type of people who specialize in leaving snarky comments over at the imdb. However, I rather like it. Director Tom Provost makes the risky choice to emphasize atmosphere over easy scares. The end result is a film that is full of striking images but which requires a bit more patience than most audiences are probably willing to give. When I think about The Presence, I think about the sight of Shane West passively watching Mira Sorvino, obviously wishing he could reach out but knowing that he cannot. It’s a haunting image, one that perfectly captures both the fear and the pathos of a good ghost story.
And that, ultimately, is what The Presence is. It’s a good ghost story and what better time for a good ghost story than now?