FEBRUARY 14, 2012
As I am once again down to maybe 2-3 horror movies in the entire store that I haven’t seen, I opted for The Presence over the others, due to the fact that it sounded a bit more romantic than La Santeria or Zombie Nation. Just because it’s Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean I get the night off from HMADing, so I figured it was a good “compromise” for Mrs. BC if she wanted to watch along with me.
Well not only was it an acceptable choice for her, but it was a pretty good movie, period. For starters it was much creepier than I expected; I was thinking it would be like Ghost or something, with a ghostly guy just sort of hanging around near the woman he loves and maybe protecting her from a bad guy at the end to give it some action, but no – for a good chunk of the movie, our hero ghost (Shane West) is flat out scary, wordlessly watching our heroine (Mira Sorvino) as she goes about her day without noticing him. The first 15 minutes of the movie are entirely without dialogue as we gradually figure out the situation – he’s stuck in the house, he’s fixated on her, and she’s blissfully unaware of his (sigh) presence.
Once we get a bit of a handle on things, other characters are introduced, though the film still goes on long stretches with minimal or no dialogue, and the cast only totals six (three living, three not). Yet the addition of another main character (Sorvino’s boyfriend) and more dialogue does not diminish the impact of the scare scenes; it’s quite a while before we know for sure if West is a good or bad ghost, making his appearances quite unnerving. West never speaks or moves until the 3rd act, so when someone sweeps a light across a room and we see him just standing there watching them (and of course, they don’t see him), it almost always produces results. Maybe not a jump out of your chair moment or even a scream, but just a general feeling of uneasiness that persists, which to me is better anyway.
Some may lose patience with it, however, and I couldn’t exactly argue with them. I am a sucker for slower paced, small cast movies like this, especially when the emphasis is on visuals over dialogue (if it was paced the same but was just a non-stop series of conversations, I’d probably be bored out of my mind). Director Tom Provost has given us a wonderful scope image, and uses the frame very effectively – Sorvino on one side, West standing motionless on the other. A cropped version of this movie wouldn’t work at all, which is not a very common thing I can say – Halloween is one of the few others. And after 5 years, anytime I compare something favorably to Halloween should perk your ears up!
But again, it’s “slow” with regards to action and outright scares that would work in a trailer. If you can’t settle into the movie’s groove in that first 15-20 minutes, you might as well just give up, because it doesn’t really get any more exciting. Also, Sorvino can be a bit grating at times; her character has had some childhood trauma that we learn about in small doses, but not before she has a couple of seemingly out of nowhere outbursts at her boyfriend, who is pretty much the greatest guy in the world. With so few characters, it’s asking a lot of the audience to stick with the film when one of them (the main one, in fact) is borderline unlikable at times. Some things are also left a bit ambiguous, and there’s also a goofy montage near the end where we see that a few of the movie’s events were aided by a new ghost (angel, actually, according to the commentary), which was a bit much for me. Still, by then the movie had built up a lot of goodwill, so I let it slide. For others though, it may be the final nail in the coffin.
Love or hate the film, you can’t deny Provost delivers a solid commentary track. He tackles all aspects of the film: editing, writing, casting, directing, etc, without getting too nuts and bolts-y or self-congratulatory, which is all you can ask for a solo commentary. He points out some influences (Rosemary’s Baby is one) and some things that I didn’t even notice (such as the fact that West never even blinks on-screen), and defends his decision to shoot scope, which is great because not only is he 100% right, but I’ve seen a number of films that should have been one way or the other and their director just ignored it. He also bemoans/laughs at the fact that folks will be watching on their iPhones and thus won’t get the full effect of his visuals, so I’m definitely a fan. Down with iWatching!
The other extras aren’t as essential, especially if you didn’t like the movie (I’d recommend the commentary either way). Some storyboard comparisons are accompanied by additional commentary by Provost and his editor; I didn’t pay much attention to the boards, but it was fun to hear from his editor for a little bit. Then there’s a pretty typical making of that covers all the bases; nothing exciting. No trailer, interestingly enough – I am curious if the filmmakers ever made one on their own, since the one on Youtube seems to be commissioned by Lionsgate and sells a more traditional “Couple moves to a new house and things get scary” movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (compared to their trailer for Hunters it’s the most honest spot I’ve ever seen), but I’d be curious how the filmmakers themselves tried to market this unusual take on fairly common material.
Speaking of which, one of the executive producers is Dan Myrick, co-creator of Blair Witch who has turned out a couple of underwhelming films of his own (Solstice, The Objective) but seemingly has better luck with producing (Alien Raiders!). A Blair Witch 3 is continually teased; I sort of doubt it’ll ever happen, but his name still carries some weight in my eyes, and a few more like this would be most welcome. He seemingly enjoys getting behind fresh, “alt” takes on common material, and after 2000 movies, I tell ya – that’s exactly what I’m looking for as a viewer.
What say you?