A Better Cabin in the Woods
Discovering a good horror movie about which I’ve previously heard nothing gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. This rare phenomenon is a reminder to not be discouraged by the lack of regular genre fare in theaters. Independent comedies and dramas long ago increased in my favor over big-budget Hollywood productions, so why shouldn’t the same eventually be said for horror? I’d rather see a creative little ghost story like The Presence any day than a bloated, nonsensical spectacle like [FILL IN THE BLANK FROM A WIDE VARIETY OF CHOICES].
Executive Producer Daniel Myrick (The Blair Witch Project) must have shared something with first-time director Tom Provost about how to scare audiences in subtle ways. There are neither outright scares in The Presence, nor any blood and gore; however, there are some wonderfully creepy and startling scenes. Gorgeous cinematography by Collin Brink and a multi-faceted score by Conrad Pope contribute to an atmosphere begging to be viewed on a big screen with the volume turned high.
The Presence opens with several relaxing scenes of a remote backwoods setting accompanied by calming music, alternating with a furious P.O.V. race across a lake (or down a river; I’m not sure which) accompanied by frantic music. Then, the first several minutes is composed of brief, fade in/fade out shots of a lonely cabin in the woods. In one shot, we suddenly notice a figure standing in the window. We don’t know much about this character, played by Shane West, other than he looks incredibly sad.
Not much else happens during the first 15-20 minutes except that we are completely immersed into the environment. And there’s not a word spoken, even as Mira Sorvino, looking great at 45, arrives for some quality “me” time. It turns out the cabin is already inhabited by West, but he seems to be ineffective at anything other than watching Sorvino. When Sorvino’s boyfriend (Justin Kirk) arrives unexpectedly, the story (such as it is) slowly unfolds. There are tiny details and harbored secrets that come to light during the rest of the movie.
I hesitate to say that The Presence is in many ways reminiscent of The Sixth Sense, because that suggests a surprising twist at the end. There is a twist, but it occurs much earlier. I don’t want to spoil it, but I’ll just say that “Ghost”, “The Woman” and “The Man”, as they’re named in the credits, may (or may not) be the only inhabitants of the cabin. However, the two movies are similar at times in tone and use of flashbacks to reveal things of which we weren’t aware the first time we saw them.
The one thing I have to say, though, even at risk of a spoiler, is that I love the way the supernatural communicate with the humans in The Presence. Imagine an invisible person sitting right beside you, constantly whispering in your ear. You don’t know why you’re having persistent thoughts, but they eventually drive you to action or, possibly, insanity. That concept seems more realistic (and unique) than interpretations of bellowing, chain-rattling spirits in other cinematic ghost stories.
My one complaint about The Presence is a heavy-handed plot device mentioned one too many times before it comes into play in the final act. The deliberate pace didn’t bother me at all; I found it oddly soothing, even though I fear some viewers may find it a bore. If you allow it to get under your skin, though, it’s a very effective little thriller that will probably leave you thinking about it even after the credits roll.