It seems crazy: Louis Mandoki he turned to horror. And needless to say, Presencias – this is the latest title from the Mexican-born director – was presented to the Turin Film Festival 2022out of competition, in the prophetic section Crazies. This is one of the novelties of the 40th edition of the TFF, a selection (also in competition) dedicated to quality horror films. But Presenciassadly, it lacks both writing quality and originality, resulting in it being long, frayed, and largely derivative. An amusement, perhaps, for whoever shot it; a déjà-vu for those who will have to (re) see itputting up with the sequence of clichés gender. Childhood traumas, nightmares, lake houses and demonic presences, which would have been better exorcised in less playing time and avoided drowning in the lazy four-handed script with Olivia Bond. What can I say: license to kill (of boredom).
Victor (Alberto Ammann) is tormented by insomnia, but when he falls asleep it is even worse: he is haunted by the recurring nightmare of the death of his little sister Alma. The childhood trauma is tinged with disturbing implications: Víctor saw a monstrous hand rise from the waters and drag Alma to the bottom. After years of therapy, the man, now a well-known actor, decides to return with his partner Alicia (Andrea Santibáñez) to the old but cozy little house on the lake, near the place where his sister died. A new tragedy, however, shakes the fragile conscience and weak sleep. From the bottom of the lake, perhaps, something has returned. From that of memory, then, sinister memories and suspicions emerge. In a hostile environment – the villagers hate his father, Don Jaime – Víctor will have to face old and new nightmares, supported only by a kind nurse (Yalitza Aparicius) and by his affectionate brother Manolo (Daniel Mandoki).
Once upon a time in Mexico Luis Mandoki
Luis Mandoki is an appreciated director who moved between Mexico and Hollywood, but whose best moments date back to between the 80s and 90s. After the beginnings at home, Gaby, a true story (1987) earned him international fame, with the story of a writer suffering from cerebral palsy and her relationship with her carer. In the spotlight at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars with a handful of nominations, she lives off more than a decade of good Hollywood craft films, directing the likes of Susan Sarandon (Warm emotion1990), Melanie Griffith (Born yesterday1993), Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia (Love each other1994).
The words I didn’t tell you (1999), which earned Kevin Costner the Razzie Award nomination for Worst Lead Actor, prelude to the last Hollywood fires: angel eyes (2000) with Jennifer Lopez and James Cazeviel, 24 hours (2001) with Charlize Theron, Kevin Bacon and Dakota Fanning. The return to Mexico with the film Innocent voices (2004) yielded the Crystal Bear in Berlin and various awards in America. Shortly thereafter, however, you will undergo a long period of partial defiling.
The words I have already told you
And then it comes presences, a title that would already lament questionable inventiveness. The same flaw as the film. The beginning, between the waters that snatch the young Alma from the life with a claw from the abyss, warns the viewer: whether it is a Mexican Loch Ness or some other lake or lagoon monster, the already said of horror is a real danger. Among the ritual presences, the hackneyed script also stamps the ghosts and the possessed, better if in a “childish” version.
Still, the lake air would be good for Mandoki’s film. The pueblito like a village of the damned, the beautiful dull photography of the Frenchman Philip Lozanosound editing from “noises in the head”, would make the film at least technically decent.
Sometimes they come back
In PresenciasHowever, what clashes between the voids in the script and the too sudden turns is above all the banality of evil. There is some sort of cursed pendant, found to be somewhat rusty; an air of possession that takes the form of an evident “urinary” quotation from The exorcist; a nina made up to Ring by Hideo Nakata; the idea of dangerous sleep that goes a long way Nightmare by West Craven. If we add the glossy extraction of the protagonist Víctor, who has become a film actor – we discover it in the useless sequence of one of his previews – we don’t understand the meaning of Mexican encroachment. Its cursed aura is lost, its rhythm is constantly broken with returns to background urban. And face that Alberto Ammann gives to Víctor, no matter how much blood he gets, he stays too clean.
Here, a Presencias it lacks the rot of full-blooded horror. And the rhythm: the slow one of the folk horror woodland, by immersion, or the rapid one of the slasher. The insistent soundtrack, where the wooden planks of the house and leaves by the lake could crackle, is indicative of what Luis Mandoki’s film wanted to be: a technical aggregate by trade, a horror film shot more for curriculum than for evil instinct.
Even without killer instinct, Presencias it might earn the interest of some lukewarm horror movie buffs: for a bit of suspense, for a half-“double ending.” On the other hand, slightly more orthodox horror lovers will find it yet another avoidable presence among genre productions.