Presence Review

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An inside-out approach is taken by Steven Soderbergh with Presence, to the haunted house movie. This low-budget story of a family who believes they are sharing their new home with something, or somebody- a ghostly presence that exists in the shape of a camera — could have been overwhelmed by this kind of movie, if it was placed in the hands of an ordinary person but not Presence, which sometimes looks hilarious at times and others really scary in between because here – where Soderbergh doubles as director of photography Peter Andrews – it is most likely both at once.
The Hollywood digital experimentalist has dabbled in horror only occasionally before, but what sets this film apart from his resume is that it’s also an unsettling spiritual reckoning within a goofy midnight-movie romp. Presence therefore literally means to be alone and confined under these circumstances.

Just like Presence, another project by Soderbergh and Koepp (the thriller set in lockdown) revolves around one location as well. Hence, we become acquainted with the surroundings already when the camera moves through various rooms of an empty two-story house during twilight hours. The next morning, while we’re being zapped through space, we see Julia Fox plays a Realtor who wants to show the place to four people: Rebekah (Lucy Liu) and Chris (Chris Sullivan), a couple with two adolescents Tyler (Eddy Maday) and Chloe (Callina Liang). As she walks inside though, Chloe glances at the camera for a split second; while looking directly into its lens revealing its heaviness perfectly as if it had actual form — its presence.

They eventually move in very quickly; time progresses abruptly with scene transitions marked by cuts from the black screen which gives way for new scenes playing out in extended single shots reminiscent of Enter the Void helmer Gaspar Noé and featuring intricate sound design helps guide focus towards different characters’ dialogue. The wide lens moves around fast and distorts action in the house, capturing glimpses of their lives and their private matters: Chloe has gone through a recent tragedy, Teddy thinks she is just seeking attention, Chris is empathetic to his daughter’s needs and Rebekah is preoccupied with the possibly illegal work plan.

When the invisible presence starts interacting with objects around the house, it becomes clear to Chloe (if not to the rest of the family) that she isn’t alone. Several theories, either explicitly or implicitly, propose whom or what this presence might be. Soderbergh’s fast actions form its character traits of caution as well as aggression from time to time. Presence obviates his earlier concerns about VR storytelling flaws: Soderbergh takes this away by making himself an extension of the camera which gives us all necessary information – when there are no reaction shots in a movie, when we can’t see expressions on the protagonist’s face, indeed against his face since he has none – thus showing what other artists would have done for such an experiment to occur.

In some respects, the movie is also an emotional extension of Soderbergh, his mother was a parapsychologist and like Chloe, he’s a child from a tension-laden marriage. Chris on the other hand could have given up in life since growing old at sixty has made him reflect on death and religion as evidenced by the lines he speaks during the movie. The cinematic construct of a paranormal being almost makes it impossible to think about whether he can only imagine what is after death through it, if it were not for its inherent cinematographic nature, wherein the camera becomes so involved that it becomes self-evident.

Initially, there is a subtle interaction between this ghostly presence and human characters; thus their story unfolds with a sense of irony mixed with detachment. Towards the tail end of its 85 minutes run time, however, the camera begins to assume not only individuality or personality but also audiences’ impulses – you might be watching a horror film and suddenly get that feeling of wanting to touch something or reach out or warn those people about dangers lurking in the darkness. In these instances, other characters become part of family lives often weaving themselves into it with cruel intentions. Usually, Chloe’s bedroom where Soderbergh typically uses nothing more than environmental lighting that would be possible within her room while still relying on primary washes for visual fillers.


Steven Soderbergh’s inventive haunted house thriller has an impish camera that races around space becoming more like a phantom itself. The film’s Presence plays around with spiritual reflection in an experimental horror style using both riotous humor and rigorous drama–an approach to cinema that Soderbergh adopts as his own.

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