When it comes to the “found footage” horror genre, there’s really not much you can realistically ask for at this point, is there? 15 years into the ever-dimming past, “scare me” seemed a reasonable enough request; a decade back, “show me something new” would have sufficed; five years ago, most of us were willing to settle for “at least do what you’re gonna do well.”
Today? Shit, I dunno — speaking personally, I’d say that I’ve been worn down to the point where “just don’t bore me to death” will do the trick. So when something like 2015’s ultra-cheap German “shaky-cam” flick Die Prasenz (or, as you’ll see it listed on Netflix right now should you care to look for it, The Presence — oh, and it’s most likely also available on Blu-ray or DVD depending on which part of the globe you call home) comes along and actually proves to be good, well — you tend to stand up and take notice. Or, at the very least, you keep sitting down and take notice.
Hohnau Castle, we’re told, is haunted. So of course would-be paranormal investigative couple Markus (played by Matthias Dietrich) and Rebecca (Liv Lisa Fries) are going to drag their “third-wheel” buddy Lukas (Henning Nohren) and their HD camcorder along with them and spend a night there. Because that’s what people in these sorts of movies do. And, of course, the place really is going to turn out to have its fair share of unseen entities, ghastly apparitions, and various and sundry other things that go bump in the night. Because that’s what creepy old buildings in these sorts of movies have in them. And yeah, none of this should really work anymore — but in the hands of producer/director/writer/cinematographer Daniele Grieco and his $40,000 budget, I’ll be damned if most all of it doesn’t.
Not that it should, of course, by all rights. But there’s an undeniable “extra something” on offer here that I thought the whole played-out “found footage” game had lost a long time ago. Maybe the obvious unprofessionalism of the cast makes them seem more like real people. Maybe the genuinely microscopic amount of cash spent imparts the proceedings with an air of entirely earned authenticity. Maybe the fact that things actually get going pretty quickly here and never really let up is just what jaded audience members like myself need to distract us from the fact that we’ve seen all this a thousand and one fucking times already. Heck, maybe the stories being circulated that the production itself was purportedly beset by “real-life” inexplicable happenings at the castle-turned-hotel where it was shot somehow give everything in Die Prasenz a level of gravitas that its legion of competitors/fellow travelers just can’t fake no matter how hard they try. Who can say for sure?
Whatever the reason (or reasons), though, I’m not complaining. This flick is just the shot in the arm us desperate, pathetic, “found footage” junkies needed — even if it’s being injected into a vein already heavy with “track marks” from overuse.
It’s probably far too late in the day for anything even remotely resembling the “new” or the “different” or even the “unexpected” to somehow sneak into this just-can’t-seem-to-die subgenre, but Die Prasenz at least goes some way toward reminding us grizzled, tired vets why we ever saw anything of value in the conceit the first place — and at its best moments even makes us feel a frisson of the old “holy shit are they gonna make it out of this or not?” dread. I admit I don’t ask for much from “hand-held horrors” anymore — but this one gave me far more than I had any reason (I’m almost tempted to say right, but I won’t — whoops!) to expect.