The Presence (PANIC) of Solid Horror Wavers in this Slow Burn Aquatic Horror
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Christian Schultz
Writer: Peter Ambrosio, Christian Schultz
Runtime: 88 Minutes
Starring: Jenna Lyng Adams, Dave Davis, Alexandria DeBerry
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Panic Film Festival in 2022.
After leaving New York three weeks prior due to a mental break down, Jennifer (Jenna Lyng Adams) is contacted by her best friend Samantha (Alexandria DeBerry) about good news concerning their conjoined business venture. Within the hour, Jennifer is boarding a private plane and walking on the docks of billionaire David’s (Dave Davis) private yacht. Together, they sail the Caribbean to discuss their upcoming deal to supply David’s manufacturing company with their new zipper design. All is well except Jennifer is plagued by violent visions of her ex-boyfriend Keaton (Octavio Pisano), who visited her the night before she left. Is Jennifer’s unchecked anxiety attempting to self-sabotage her once again or has a sinister presence latched onto her?
A neat concept in Presence gets flushed out by plodding pacing and unresolved storylines.
Problems begin in Presence within the first few minutes. Introducing the story in real time then jumping immediately back in time feels like a cheap way to get the story rolling. The choice to pair this with a glut of flashback and vision sequences later in the film feels gimmicky and gets tiresome rather quickly. It does not do the film any favors in terms of pacing either. Clunky and disorganized, it is difficult to see how time passes during the film, which could be a directorial choice. Surely, there are more efficient ways to frame this narrative. Issues continue when reveals lead to more questions than answers. This works in some respects, but too much is left open ended leaving the viewers more confused than anything.
The cast does a great job of selling their roles. Individually they all hit their archetypes rather well: Jenna Lyng Adams embodying the hurt and anxiety ridden creative in Jennifer, Dave Davis with his take on billionaire playboy in David, and Alexandria DeBerry injecting energy as the bubbly and ambitious Samantha. There isn’t a weak one among them and their portrayals elevate the film beyond its initial premise. What does not work as well is the relationship between Samantha and Jennifer, which feels inauthentic and forced. This is more due to the writing as both actresses try to make the chemistry work.
One of the brighter aspects of Presence is its dissection of its leading characters and the intersection of mental health and horror. Jennifer is suffering from mental health issues throughout the film, and it is unfairly put in the terrifying position of determining whether her visions are real or not. The contrast of Samantha and David’s reactions to her struggle is clear. Samantha’s aversion to discussing Jennifer’s issues for her own benefit and David’s willingness to make her feel comfortable is a nice subversion from typical genre tropes. By the end, there is even some vindication in how the story plays out, giving way to commentary on the manner in which we exploit others for their vulnerabilities in search of power, money, or other vices.
Spooky but never truly frightening, Presence works hard to establish a consistent atmosphere.
There is something insidious about the manifestation in the film. It is so simplistic that it is terrifying to look at but not in an outlandish way. Grounded in reality yet just uncanny enough for a double take, the special effects team succeed in creating something creepy.
Presence has a nice sleek look. Bright landscapes during the day help contrast the pitch-black loneliness of the sea at night. Luxury yachts are hard to make feel unwelcome, since they are made to accommodate to every need, but Presence does a solid job of raising the stakes when the lights are out and the darkness is hunting. It only gets truly stylish when Jennifer suffers from the blackouts and vivid nightmares. Unfortunately, shoddy editing makes it more irritating than horrifying.
Slick production values and a strong cast cannot make up for the wonky storyline and odd pacing in Presence. Despite its interesting premise, the film never amounts to much by the end. The choice to end on so many cliffhangers while refusing to answer any questions makes it a hard film to recommend. Still, there is enough style in the production and strength in the cast to make up for its irritating plot. It may not have much Presence in this reviewer’s mind, but if psychological supernatural horror is your jam, it might be worth the watch.
Overall Score? 5.5/10