Presence Doesn’t Live Up to Its Cool Premise

I’m a sucker for movies that skirt the line between the supernatural and the psychological. The question of whether something is genuinely paranormal or just in people’s heads fascinates me to no end, so when I first heard about Presence, I jumped at the chance to review it. It sounded like it would fit that supernatural/psychological bill perfectly, so I couldn’t wait to check the film out and learn the truth behind its diabolical goings-on.

Presence was directed and co-written by Christian Schultz, and it stars Jenna Lyng Adams, Dave Davis, and Alexandria DeBerry. It’s about a young woman named Jennifer who suffers from panic attacks, and some time after a particularly severe episode, she’s contacted by her best friend Samantha with good news about a business venture they’re both involved in. She’s met a rich entrepreneur named David who’s willing to help them grow their business, and he wants to take them out on his luxurious yacht. While there, Jennifer has violent and terrifying visions, but it’s not quite clear if they’re supernatural or just another symptom of her debilitating anxiety.

That sounds like a really cool premise, right? It has the supernatural/psychological question, a history of mental health struggles that feeds right into that mystery, and an enclosed setting where the characters can’t escape if things really go south. All the pieces are there for a great movie, and I have to say, for the first 15 or 20 minutes of Presence, I was totally on board with it.

First and foremost, I came to like the character of Jennifer pretty much right away. She’s played well by Jenna Lyng Adams, so she feels like a real person with real problems. In particular, I totally bought into her struggle with anxiety, so I genuinely felt bad for her. I wanted Jennifer to overcome that roadblock and flourish, so I was really interested to see how her story would play out.

A woman looking through a window

On top of that, I also enjoyed the horror in this part of Presence. Granted, we don’t get much of it at this point, but the little bit we do see is pretty cool. Director Christian Schultz does a good job of creating creepy scenes that draw you into the story and make you wonder just what the hell is going on, so I was excited to see what would happen when I got into the real meat of the story.

But unfortunately, once I got there, the film started to go downhill. To begin, the whole situation just seems really far-fetched, so I had trouble buying into it. When the movie starts, Jennifer and Samantha are best friends in New York, but Jennifer has to move out of the city to deal with her panic attacks. Soon afterwards, we learn that Jennifer has been trying to contact Samantha for a while, but Samantha hasn’t returned any of her calls or messages. Then, one day, Samantha just calls Jennifer out of the blue and tells her about this great business opportunity, and Jennifer goes right along with it.

In fact, Jennifer doesn’t even demand an explanation of why Samantha didn’t contact her sooner. When she asks, Samantha simply says that things got crazy, and Jennifer pretty much just accepts that. Now, I don’t know about you, but if that were me, “things just got crazy” wouldn’t cut it. I would be pissed off at my friend, and I would need to know specifics. But Jennifer never really asks for more, and I had a tough time buying that.

Then, as Presence goes on, we also learn that Samantha didn’t tell Jennifer anything about their yacht trip. Jennifer doesn’t know where they’re going, what exactly David does, or how he’s going to help them, and in my eyes, that strained credulity even further. I sure as hell wouldn’t get on someone’s yacht without knowing all that (and probably more!), so again, I just couldn’t suspend disbelief enough to accept this whole scenario.

On top of that, I also had some issues with the characters. I still liked Jennifer just as much as I did in the first 15 or 20 minutes, but Samantha and David were lackluster at best. Let’s start with Samantha. While she’s supposed to have serious business aspirations, she comes across as a Friday the 13th-like lusty party girl who only has one thing on her mind, and it’s definitely not business. It feels like the wrong vibe for the character, so I couldn’t really take her seriously.

Two women walking up to a boat

In contrast, David feels exactly like a rich, almost playboy-esque entrepreneur, but that’s pretty much all he is. There’s not much depth to the character, so while I didn’t have any trouble buying into him, I just didn’t find him all that interesting.

Last but not least, let’s talk about the horror in Presence. For the most part, the movie keeps doing the same stuff it did in the first 15 or 20 minutes, and I mainly enjoyed it whenever it came to the fore. However, there is one notable exception to that. The last 15 or 20 minutes go all in on the horror, and I have conflicting thoughts about this section.

On the one hand, there’s a sequence that really leans into the bloody slasher elements of the story, and I really enjoyed that. But on the other hand, the end just, well, goes off the deep end. The final scene pulls back the curtain and explains what’s really going on, but it doesn’t make any sense. It left me wondering what the hell I had just watched (referring to that one scene, not Presence as a whole), so the movie ended on a pretty sour note.

To be fair though, that final scene is the least of my problems with Presence. The weak characters and unconvincing situation do this film in way before the baffling finale, so that ending is just the disappointing cherry on top. Granted, the movie isn’t terrible, so if you decide to check it out, you probably won’t feel like you wasted your time. It’s just not particularly good either, so if you’re on the prowl for some fun new horror, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Presence hits VOD on November 17.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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