Popcorn Frights Review: ‘Presence’ Sets Sail Into The Dark Recesses Of The Mind
Christian Schultz’ debut narrative feature Presence takes a fairly standard plot of a haunting/possession, places it on a yacht, and adds a dose of Jungian psychology accompanied by some impressive visuals to keep the story feeling fresh. It’s a slow burn that takes a little bit to find its footing. The beginning is also a bit jarring with how it jumps around, but if you stick with it the payoff is worthwhile.
Jenna Lyng Adams (as seen in Before the Fire) portrays Jennifer, an artist struggling with anxiety and vivid nightmares of a looming shadow figure. Her estranged friend and business partner Samantha (played by Alexandria DeBerry, Tales from the Hood 2) is coldly profit-driven. The two end up on a yacht belonging to soon-to-be business investor David (played by Dave Davis, The Vigil). It’s revealed Samantha found David in a bar and convinced him to invest, so trio set sail towards his factory to close the deal on Jennifer and Samantha’s zipper idea and make everyone a lot of money.
Jennifer is fairly open about her mental health struggles, even with David who she’s just met. We see her mental health deteriorate throughout the movie as her nightmarish visions involving the shadow presence get more vivid and violent. Jennifer is stricken by fear and paranoia about what she is seeing in the dreams as well those around her, keeping the psychological horror at the forefront of the story. As we see Jennifer continue to fall apart, we’re left trying to piece together what is actually happening versus what is simply in her head. It soon becomes apparent to all on board the yacht that there is something else there with them and it is out for blood.
The interaction between the three main characters is tense due to a myriad of factors including a visibly strained friendship, a pseudo-love triangle, a high-value business deal, and Jennifer’s failing mental health. All the while they’re contained on this yacht in the middle of the ocean with no real privacy from one another. Samantha treats Jennifer with minimal respect: routinely criticizing her, blaming her for past failures, and mocking her mental health. It’s a harsh look at how some people treat those dealing with mental health struggles but one that will likely resonate with those who have been there before.
The cinematography is top notch and the ocean views provide a beautiful contrast to the harshly lit, nightmarish imagery that fills Jennifer’s mind every evening. It’s also during these sequences that the sound design really shines. The score does an excellent job of adding to the stress and getting under your skin.
Towards the end of the movie, there’s a line “you look like you have a lot of questions. I’d like to provide you with some answers.” unfortunately I did not get the answers I was looking for right away, left with open ended questions that really depend on how one interprets certain aspects of the story. Through all of this, the final act stuck with me and when I began writing this review it seemingly clicked in my head. The ending is clever and I believe wraps up the story very well. Overall, Presence is a strong slow burn psychological horror that’s mostly carried by its visuals and Jenna Lyng Adams’ acting.