[PANIC FEST] PRESENCE Review - Schultz Delivers a Dark and Terrifying Descent into Madness
Brianna Geiger calls Presence a horrifyingly beautiful film where every moment is intentional, building to an unexpected conclusion.
PRESENCE (2022) premiered at Panic Fest 2022 and is a film you won’t want to miss. Christian Schultz co-writes with Peter Ambrosio a story that will leave you trusting no one, not even the people closest to you. Reader beware, light spoilers ahead.
It follows Jennifer (Jenna Lyng Adams), a struggling entrepreneur. She attempts to contact Samantha (Alexandria DeBerry), who’s gone weeks without answering. We see a flashback of Jennifer leaving Sam in New York following her depleting mental health. The scene’s intensity increases when the power goes out, and she goes to investigate. She is scared of someone she thinks is breaking in during her search. Before attacking, she realizes it is her ex-boyfriend Keaton (Octavio Pisano). He initially stops by to check on her but soon persuades her to go out with him to a bar. They leave after he gets into a fight with a guy attempting to flirt with Jennifer. It’s unclear what happened that night as things transition back to the present, where Jennifer wakes up to a call from Sam.
Adams’ performance was strikingly captivating. The audience observes Jennifer’s descent into madness. In a scene where she jumps into the ocean—on what should be a joyous occasion—the moment takes a dark and terrifying turn as she emerges from the water screaming. Adams’ unflinching emotional transition aided her portrayal of intense anxiety. Is there anything scarier than the thought of losing your mind to something you don’t understand?
John Paul Summer’s cinematography aids in keeping the film interesting. Whenever we get a flashback to Jennifer’s last night with Keaton, we get close-up shots of her eyes and body standing over him. It adds to the eerie atmosphere as Jennifer’s mental state deteriorates. Additionally, we get flashes of her body convulsing as a form of transition from past to present. These glimpses are very unsettling, but they represent her body’s physical reaction to the entity trying to possess her, which is a fascinating detail.
Andrew Morgan Smith’s score brought the film to new levels of terror with a melody that kept me on the edge of my seat. There were several moments where the score disguised the scene as calm and peaceful before building anxiety-inducing tension. It feels meant to play with our emotions and hold us in a state of panic.
The ending is open to each viewer's interpretation. If you like films that leave you with more questions than answers, I recommend PRESENCE. Every moment is intentional, building to an unexpected conclusion. Rather than using jump scares, the fear derives from the horrifying implications of the film’s twist.