The Presence is a German found footage film – and really one of those entities that serves to do little more then give Netflix some content…
I know a lot of people automatically dismiss a film as soon as they hear the words “found footage”, but I’m not quite so quick to judge solely on that. It opens with a familiar premise, three people heading to an allegedly haunted location to try and investigate paranormal activity – documenting the whole thing with their camera. We’ve seen the same idea repeatedly, all the way back to the Blair witch project, and of course more recently in films like grave encounters, The speak, and Greystone Park. Because we’re in Europe, we’re going to a castle – it’s a nice change from the abandoned asylums and words that are used to seeing in the scanner movies, and it should provide us with remarkable atmosphere.
The film obviously draws heavy influence from the Blair witch project, and paranormal activity. We can see throughout the movie that it pulls concepts and scenes almost directly from these two films and does it frequently. That’s okay, If you’re going to steal, do it from the best. The Problem is, even with trying to copy some of these more successful films – they do it so poorly that it comes off flat and colorless. This magnificent castle that should be dazzling us with spooky atmosphere fails to do much more than act as a fairly brightly lit backdrop. There are expeditions out into the woods surrounding the castle, and yet instead of filing us with dread they feel long andtedious
Length really seems to be a problem. At a relatively short hour and 22 minutes, this film still feels too long– as if there’s not enough story and not enough scares to fill this running time, and we are left with long lingering shots of walls, grass, and our sleeping protagonists. I susp[ect part of this is pacing – there are certian basic rules of screenwriging and pacing, yet it seems like most found footage films seem to think they can ignore them… This examples of why those rules absolutely apply here as well.
I stuck with it, frequently these kind of movies seriously pick up in the third act, (prince of darkness was like that, I left it too early and didn’t realise how all hell breaks loose in the third act until years later)Ibut even when the third act failed to scare, I stuck with it to see if the film had a sufficiently shocking end. That’s actually one thing that the Blair witch did perfectly. It kept you uneasy,but it was the ending that stayed with me. There’s stuff that the end of this particular film that are some of the only two or three genuinely original and creepy moments that the movie, but it’s immediately ruined by cutting to a surreal and ridiculous video game looking sequence from the brightly coloured first person perspective of the person carrying the camera.
There’s nothing new here, and the familiar tropes that we do see – possession and haunting… They’re all too familiar, I’ve seen this before – and done better. The haunting is almost entirely made up of offscreen banging and videotape of a door opening and closing amid camera glitches. Doing someone complicated haunting – something a little more extreme with some stage hands… Stuff like stacking furniture (remember the chair and table gag in poltergeist? That was all one shot… Simple effect but incredibly effective) . Having some stage hands offscreen toss pots and pans in the frame, books flying – intercut more bloody premonitions at unexpected times into the videotape… Any of this kind of stuff could have really creeped up the atmosphere. So could some proper lighting to inject some intimidating gloom into the castle. Sadly instead, we got the flat bright natural lights that failed to take full advantage of this marvelous location. Possessions tend to be genuinely scary, but they didn’t push for anything revolutionary– and the sad part is I think that they believed they were… But it all fell flat – blank stares and a lack of bladder control isn’t really that’s shocking in 2014 done
Over long and under storied, I’m afraid this one is a pass. There’s great potential here, and I can see a much better film that could have been– but I get the definite impression that there was no time or money here, and as a result there is also no care. Netflix is possibly the best place for it – I can’t see how anybody would ever watch this movie otherwise.