Steven Soderbergh’s latest film “Presence” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past weekend to a divided response. The psychological thriller left some viewers enthralled while others walked out or felt disappointed.
Polarizing Reactions Lead Some to Walk Out
“Presence” follows a woman named Maureen (Lucy Liu) struggling with grief and guilt after a traumatic event. She begins having unsettling experiences in her isolated modern home that blur the line between reality and the paranormal.
The film’s unconventional storytelling led to polarized reactions from Sundance audiences. Some viewers were disturbed enough to walk out of the screening early on.
“I’ve never seen so many people walk out of a Sundance screening. It was constant throughout, with multiple people leaving every couple of minutes,” noted one film blogger.
However, others were riveted by Soderbergh’s eerie atmosphere and found it a thrillingly inventive take on the haunted house genre.
Is It More Style Over Substance? Critics Weigh In
Reviews have covered the full spectrum, though many lean negative. While there is widespread praise for the film’s technical prowess and visual flair, some feel it lacks substance and emotional impact.
The Hollywood Reporter calls it “a provocative but hollow paranormal whatsit.” They credit Soderbergh’s skill as a filmmaker but ultimately found the story unsatisfying:
“Soderbergh contradicts himself here, formally inventive but unmoving…a technical marvel that elicits admiration more than enjoyment.”
IndieWire echoes this sentiment in their 2.5/5 star review:
“Soderbergh’s customarily sharp instincts fail him in this hollow haunted house flick that mistakes opacity for depth.”
Meanwhile, Rolling Stone offers more praise, arguing ‘Presence’ shakes up both the ghost genre and Soderbergh’s filmography in a 3/5 star review.
“Soderbergh redefines immersive storytelling with this art thriller,” they write. “The ending disappoints, but getting there offers plenty of chilling rewards.”
Unique Filmmaking Format Adds to Polarizing Reactions
Part of what made “Presence” so divisive is its avant-garde narrative format. Soderbergh employs an unconventional structure that intentionally obscures details to place viewers in Maureen’s fractured psychological state.
“I shot it like a weird reality show,” Liu explained, noting the claustrophobic camerawork.
The film also uses an experimental technique called volumetric video to create an immersive 3D environment. This enhances the eerie atmosphere but may have also contributed to some finding it disorienting.
What’s Next for Soderbergh and “Presence”?
It remains to be seen whether “Presence” will find an audience beyond the festival circuit. Reactions are too mixed for it to be an arthouse crossover hit like Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.” The film does not currently have a distributor.
Soderbergh has had a prolific past few years with titles like “No Sudden Move”, “KIMI”, and “Magic Mike’s Last Dance.” He shows no signs of slowing down, with another film called “The Climb” expected later this year along with seasons 2 and 3 of his HBO Max series “Full Circle.”
For Lucy Liu, “Presence” marks one of her only lead roles after years of supporting turns in blockbusters. She can next be seen reprising her voice role in the animated sequel “Kung Fu Panda 4.”
With its unconventional take, “Presence” seems unlikely to launch a new franchise for Soderbergh or Liu. But it proves they both still have a talent for shaking up genres and challenging audiences.
Table 1: Presence Review Excerpts
| Hollywood Reporter | Negative | “Soderbergh contradicts himself here, formally inventive but unmoving…a technical marvel that elicits admiration more than enjoyment.”
| Indiewire | Negative | “Soderbergh’s customarily sharp instincts fail him in this hollow haunted house flick that mistakes opacity for depth.” |
| Rolling Stone | Mixed Positive | “Soderbergh redefines immersive storytelling with this art thriller. The ending disappoints, but getting there offers plenty of chilling rewards.” |
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