Over the course of the film, we experience moments in the family’s life, glimpsed through the eyes of the spirit languishing in this tense and unexpectedly dysfunctional home. Steven Soderbergh, who often shoots his own movies, uses the camera to represent the spirit so that we view everything from its point of view. The film begins before the family has even moved in, the camera acting as a restless entity aimlessly roaming through the rooms, setting the scene for what is to come. We spend the entire film inside the house, and all of the scenes are shot with a fly-on-the-wall approach where the spirit must choose when to merely observe and when to use its energy to intervene.
The characters in “Presence” often struggle to see each other properly, but the spirit doesn’t suffer from this problem: it silently bears witness to their private issues, from Chris seeking legal advice over his marriage to Chloe’s burgeoning secret relationship with a popular but strangely disconcerting boy from school (West Mulholland). Because of how rigidly Soderbergh sticks to his visual gimmick, we never see the spirit itself — but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel its, well … presence. It carries with it a palpable emotional weight that is so overwhelming, that all of the family members eventually feel it, even if they’re not willing to admit it to themselves. Because we never leave the house, there’s a sense of claustrophobia that permeates “Presence,” creating the tangible and deeply unsettling feeling of being trapped in a haunted house with an unknown entity ourselves.