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Wednesday, November 16, 2022

‘Presence’ Review – Psychological Horror Movie Gets Lost at Sea

Directed by Christian Schultz from a screenplay co-written with Peter AmbrosioPresence relocates the haunted house setting to a luxury yacht. The extreme isolation of being at sea provides fertile ground to explore what makes a haunting; is it a product of a fractured mind or something supernatural? Presence attempts to straddle the line between psychological and supernatural, but its vague approach to storytelling casts its horror adrift.

Jennifer (The Kominsky Method’s Jenna Lyng Adams) struggles to piece her life back together once leaving New York after a mental break. She’s plagued by horrific dreams in which she kills Keaton (Octavio Pisano), prone to panic attacks, and suffers further anxiety from being unable to reach her friend and business partner Sam (Alexandria DeBerry) for months. Then Sam reappears out of the blue with a lucrative business proposition from billionaire David (Dave Davis) that has the pair set off on a luxury cruise for the week. But it only ramps up Jennifer’s vivid nightmares, begging the question of whether Jennifer’s mental grip is slipping or if a sinister presence latched onto her.

Presence works hard to establish Jennifer as an unreliable protagonist from the outset, blurring any sense of reality in the process. Adams makes Jennifer’s nervousness palpable as she desperately grasps for a feeling of normalcy. Opening scenes establish Jennifer as a woman on a razor’s edge; she’s prone to crying fits, pacing, and an overall franticness over being unable to connect with those around her. Then there are the dreams. Jennifer’s nightmares of ghostly dark figures and violence constantly threaten to pervade her waking life, and probing from an assertive David seems to make it worse.

But in the process of creating an unstable sense of reality for its lead, Presence becomes murky in its storytelling. Schultz and Ambrosio intentionally keep the narrative vague to maintain an enigmatic atmosphere. It also distorts time and withholds details that would make it easier to find a foothold in Jennifer’s journey. The central, estranged relationship between Jennifer and Sam is meant as a central thrust for Jennifer’s unraveling. Still, it’s so thinly rendered that it makes it hard to discern or empathize with motivations.

Sending Jennifer on a voyage at sea, effectively cut off from the world, works as an obvious metaphor for her lack of control over her own life. But it’s an even bigger metaphor for Presence’s inability to grant its central character any agency over her own story. Schultz’s feature debut puts its protagonist at the mercy of others, relying instead on the horror and supporting players to flesh out Jennifer.

Adams succeeds in her haunting portrayal of a woman unmoored, and Davis maintains the ambiguous tone with a character prone to drastic shifts in temperament and motives. The breathtaking setting and soft cinematography by John Paul Summers capture the dream logic atmospherics, though Schultz never manages to inject any tension into the nightmare or horror sequences.

Despite reliable performances and execution, the shallow and too nebulous storytelling ultimately sinks Presence. The emphasis on puzzling ambiguity over character or narrative winds up leaving the horror lost at sea.  

Presence sails onto VOD on November 17, 2022.

The post ‘Presence’ Review – Psychological Horror Movie Gets Lost at Sea appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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