(director: Steven Soderbergh; screenwriter: David Koepp; cinematographer: Steven Soderbergh; editor: ; music: Zack Ryan; cast: Lucy Liu (Rebecca), Chris Sullivan (Chris), Callina Liang (Chloe), Julia Fox (Realtor), Eddy Maday (Tyler), West Mulholland (Ryan); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Julie M. Anderson, Ken Meyer; Neon; 2024)

“Loses sight of itself.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Presence is a suspenseful but unfulfilling ghost story, told without scares from the POV of a ghost who is not visible and shot from only one angle. The film is set solely in a century old haunted house. It’s playfully directed and photographed by Steven Soderbergh (“Kimi”/”Let Them All Talk”) and slickly written by David Koepp (reuniting him with Soderbergh after writing the script for Kimi).
A smoothy real estate agent (Julia Fox) sells a pricey renovated suburban house
with some secrets cheaply to a weird family looking to make a fresh start in life. The family members are — Rebecca, the businesswoman mom (Lucy Liu), and the regular guy dad, Chris. (Chris Sullivan), along with their teenage children of Tyler the son (Eddy Maday) and Chloe the daughter (Callina Liang).

Rebecca is involved in a crooked financial scheme to benefit her favorite child, the aspiring jock Tyler; Chris is the good guy hubby considering whether or not it makes sense to divorce his fallen wife
Rebecca; and, Chloe is the depressed daughter grieving the loss of her school friend, Nadia, who died after a drug overdose.

The film works best when the story is muddled, but when things clear up it loses sight of itself. The visuals excite most, with
Soderbergh the inventive DP, as the story is unconvincing and the family becomes too cartoonish to take for real.

The experimental haunted house film has a few moments where its craziness clicks, but though it has charm and is innovative, it never becomes the
top-notch Soderbergh film you would expect from the freaky good filmmaker.

It played at the Sundance Film Festival.

A still from Presence by Steven Soderbergh, an official
          selection of the Premieres Program at the 2024 Sundance Film
REVIEWED ON 2/20/2024  GRADE: B-