Categorizing The Presence isn't easy, but that's partly what makes it such an intriguing little film. Though first and foremost a ghost story, it shouldn't be considered horror. And although largely a thriller, there's a romantic drama at the core which also touches on supernatural Christian beliefs. All that and it's essentially a silent movie for the first seventeen minutes.

Interest piqued yet? Stylistically, The Presence brings to mind a wide range of sources: the suspense of Alfred Hitchcock's award-winning Rebecca; the nuanced supernatural mystery that made M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense a hit; the quiet solitude that made Stanley Kubrick's The Shining so foreboding; and, without saying too much, the sort of thing you might find in a Frank Peretti novel.

Mira Sorvino as the woman

Mira Sorvino as the woman

Writer and director Tom Provost (who co-wrote the legal drama Under Suspicion) successfully juggles all these genres and themes in this independent production. He quickly creates an air of mystery and tension that will cause viewers to wonder what exactly is going on—and the less you know going in, the better.

With stunning cinematography, The Presence begins by establishing a charming cabin secluded in the deep woods of Oregon. A mysterious figure (Shane West) is watching at the window. Is he the owner? Is he waiting for someone? We don't know initially; his quiet "presence" (and West's expressive eyes) suggests both gentleness and malevolence.

Before long, a stranger (Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino, a Christian) arrives during a thunderstorm. This woman (whose name is never revealed) turns out to be a writer looking for some getaway time at her late father's cabin. But how she interacts with West's character, well, that's the mystery that defines this film.

Shane West (right) as a mystery man

Shane West (right) as a mystery man

The lack of dialogue and uncertain trajectory make The Presence a little unsettling for the first thirty minutes. Things change with another arrival: a surprise visit from the woman's boyfriend (Justin Kirk). But is their relationship on solid ground or in the early stages of unraveling? With the arrival of other characters, the story's details unfold and tension builds, leaving viewers to question how all the puzzle pieces fit. Is something psychological at play? Or something supernatural?

Allowing the story and mystery to unfold is part of the fun, and precisely why this film recalls The Sixth Sense. Provost assigns meaning to the smallest details throughout, but he doesn't give everything a clear explanation—which isn't to say the film is ambiguous so much as it leaves things open to interpretation and lively discussion.

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The Presence preys on expectations, and thus might disappoint viewers expecting horror. But it's not the action (or violence) that makes a movie scary, but rather the anticipation. This lives by that theory and is all the more fun for it. The mood is often tense, relying primarily on false scares, though there is one really good "gotcha" moment.

Justin Kirk as the boyfriend

Justin Kirk as the boyfriend

Unfortunately, that also makes The Presence scary for (maybe) one viewing. That's what separates it from Hitchcock's thrillers. The difference between creating scares in a movie and a truly scary movie is that the latter will still terrify you even after you've seen it.

Still, The Presence is impressively crafted with stunning cinematography (filmed entirely in Oregon) that beautifully captures the outdoors in a way that makes it the next best thing to being there. Provost and cinematographer Collin Brink do an exceptional job playing with light and shadows, resulting in some clever angles and revelations.

Provost also draws strong work from his actors, particularly an emotional performance by Sorvino and an effectively subtle one from West. And there's an amazing musical score by Conrad Pope; his go-for-broke dramatic style could best be described as Hitchcockian.

The Presence also resonates because it touches on themes of temptation and redemption. Much is left for interpretation, but Provost infuses his story with his own Christian beliefs concerning human nature, sparked by the spiritual insights in C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. And the film's tagline is perfect: "Don't believe everything you hear."

The cinematography is stunning

The cinematography is stunning

The Presence, a straight-to-DVD film, is best experienced on a good high-def television with the lights off and the surround sound cranked up. Even if you come to this movie for the scares, you'll remember it for the inspired filmmaking and themes. It really does have a presence about it, one that haunts the memory and leaves a lasting impression.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. How do you reconcile the supernatural characters in this movie with the spiritual beliefs? Is there a place for such in Christianity? Consider examples of angels and demons in the Bible (see 1 Samuel 28:3-25, Luke 9:28-36).
  2. What lies are told to the woman? How do they prey on previous hurts in her life? Give examples of how the lies damage her own self-esteem and erode trust in her boyfriend.
  3. Does the movie explain how we overcome such lies? Name other ways.
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  1. Explain Shane West's character of "The Presence" in this movie. What ultimately happens to him and why? Does this coincide with your understanding of redemption and salvation in the Bible?
  2. Do you believe there is symbolism to the cabin in this movie? Are its historical significance or remote setting appropriate to the turmoil? Is there a "cabin" in your own life where you set your soul straight?
  3. What's your interpretation of the final scene in the movie? Does it inspire you with hope or dread? Explain why.

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

The Presence is not rated, but would probably earn a PG-13 simply because it's a thriller that would be deemed too intense for young children. Though scary at times, there's no blood or violence to speak of—the film is more a mystery thriller than a horror movie. There are only a few profane words in the film, including misuse of God's name, but nothing to warrant an R rating. The woman and her boyfriend are seen sharing a bed unmarried, but there's very little skin shown. Parents might need to discuss the role of the supernatural to younger viewers: angels, demons, and ghosts.

The Presence
Our Rating
3½ Stars - Good
Average Rating
(3 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for thematic elements and language)
Directed By
Tom Provost
Run Time
1 hour 27 minutes
Mira Sorvino, Shane West, Justin Kirk
Theatre Release
August 01, 2010 by Lionsgate Entertainment
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