YEAR: 2024 / COUNTRY: UNITED STATES / LANGUAGE: ENGLISH / RUN TIME: 85 MIN
Starring: Lucy Liu, Chris Sullivan, Callina Liang, Julia Fox, Eddy Maday, West Mulholland
Director(s): Steven Soderbergh
In every project of his legendary career as a director, producer, screenwriter, cinematographer, and editor, Steven Soderbergh has brought a vital energy, curiosity, and unique vision to storytelling that has few parallels in filmmaking history. Following groundbreaking work like sex, lies, and videotape (1989 Sundance Film Festival, Audience Award: Dramatic) and The Girlfriend Experience (2009 Sundance Film Festival), he returns to Park City with a film shot entirely in one location that will haunt audiences with its otherworldly story and constantly awe-inspiring visuals. Working from a taut, mysterious script by David Koepp and featuring an exciting cast of known actors and newcomers, Presence is a thrilling cinematic ride that reifies Soderbergh’s status as an icon of American independent film.
Written By Darren Zakus
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Presence is an intense directorial effort from celebrated director Steven Soderbergh that with haunting camera work, a chilling screenplay from David Koepp and an excellent cast ensures that you will be on the edge of your seat with your heart racing for the entirety of the film.
For decades, Steven Soderbergh has been making films that not only entertain and thrill audiences like Erin Brokovich, Magic Mike and Ocean’s Eleven, but also films that push the boundaries of filmmaking in new and exciting ways. Not only does he love to secretly make a film and announce it at the last minute to a splashy festival debut, he normally tries something unique and exciting from a directorial point of view to give audiences something they have never seen before. Most recently he has shot the entirety of Unsane on an iPhone 7 Plus, creating one nerve wracking psychological horror film starring Claire Foy, and Let Them All Talk starring Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, Lucas Hedges and Gemma Chan which features largely improvised dialogue and was shot using natural light and minimal equipment. His latest surprise film has Soderbergh returning to the horror genre and reuniting with writer David Koepp, who he previously worked with on 2021’s Kimi. And the results are one of the most nerve wracking and suspenseful films that Soderbergh has ever directed, ensuring that audiences will be leaving the theatre in utter shock after witnessing what unfolds in the film.
There are many movies where you want to go in blind, knowing absolutely nothing about, and Presence is one of those films. As the title suggests, the film follows a family that after moving into a new home, begins to believe that they may not be alone. What I can say is that David Koepp’s screenplay is excellent. While there is the ghost story element to the film with the titular presence that will pique audiences’ interest in the film, Koepp has written a great family drama that provides an engaging plot for the ghost story to play out within. The family within the film has severe issues, really putting the word dysfunctional to the test, which produces some truly hilarious moments that will have audiences laughing out loud despite the tension caused by the presence in the film that can be cut with a knife at any given moment. It also helps build towards a truly shocking and emotional finale to the film that will have audiences talking long after the credits have stopped rolling, as Soderbergh and Koepp take a massive swing and it pays off in spades.
Every Soderbergh film has a signature element to it, and Presence’s is the outstanding camera work on display. The entire film is shot from the point of view of the ghost, which allows the camera to freely flow through the house, giving audiences’ an unique view of the events as they unfold. Each scene is a single take shot without any editing, forcing the actors to bring their best work and not allowing them to hide off camera during a scene, which fuels some wonderful performances. But beyond that, the cinematography gives a haunted feeling to the entire film that keeps the audience on edge during every single scene as it is completely unpredictable as to what could happen next or where you will go within the house. It’s impressive camera work from Soderbergh himself who chased his actors around the house, running up and down stairs quickly to emulate the ghost moving through the house without making a sound or ruining a shot, making for one of the most uniquely shot films in a very long time. Aiding in creating the unsettling atmosphere of the film is Zack Ryan’s musical score, which is heavy on piano and strings, which has a gothic sound to it that provides insight into the emotional state of the presence throughout the film. Ryan’s compositions elevate the most terrifying moments and ensure that your heartbeat is racing as you hold your breath in fear.
With such a great cast and Soderbergh at the helm, it comes at no surprise that the film features outstanding performances from the entire cast. Lucy Liu steals the show as Rebekah, the mother of the family, obsessed with furthering her son’s life at any cost and with a blatant disregard for her mother. It’s a true ball buster performance that lets Liu play with this wickedness that results in some incredibly funny moments, but her final scene in the film truly lets her showcase her talents and reaffirm why she has been such a beloved actress in the business for decades. Chris Sullivan is wonderful as Chris, the father, sharing some wonderful moments with Callina Liang who plays his daughter Chloe and helping to create some of the most explosive moments of the film. Laing, West Mulholland and Eddy Maday are all great in their roles, especially Mulholland who has one of the more interesting roles in the film, with each of them proving themselves to be talented young actors. And while she only has one scene, Julia Fox is a scene stealer as the realtor that sells the family the house, delivering some great laughs as she does anything to try and get a sale out of this family.
You may think you have an idea of what to expect from Steven Soderbergh’s latest film when you sit down to watch it, but nothing can even come close to prepare you for the white knuckled thrill ride that is so intense that people had to leave the world premiere as they were so scared watching it. It’s a Soderbergh film through and through, which is an absolute treat for fans of his and is mainstream enough that the more casual viewer is still guaranteed to be enthralled by. With the camera telling this chilling story from the perspective of the unknown presence in our main family’s house thanks to great camera work from Steven Soderbergh, an incredible cast featuring a fierce performance from Lucy Liu, and an unforgettable story, Presence is a truly unique horror thriller that will have audiences stressed out during the entire film and leaves them in a state of utter disbelief as to what they have just experienced!