Quickly and quietly atmospheric, Ted Geoghegan‘s We Are Still Here
introduces us to not just a grieving couple attempting to move on from a tragedy, but to the house itself, for let's not kid ourselves, the house holds secrets that are truly the star of this film. We get long, sweeping shots of the winter landscape and the house within it, forboding and yet just an average looking house. The sparse score by composer Wojciech Golczewski
sets the eerie tone.
Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (genre-fave Barbara Crampton) Sacchetti have bought an old farmhouse in the idyllic New England countryside to escape the real world and try to get past the death of their son Bobby in a horrific car accident. No sooner do they start unpacking when Anne starts feeling the presence of her dead son. Things that go bump in the
daytime draw her into the basement where she, in true X-Files
fashion, wields her flashlight toward the strange sounds. As she walks carefully around in the basement, we are privy to a few moments of "what was that behind her?" "was that a shadow of someon
But Anne is not as enlightened as we are. In a moment ripped right from the fabulous ghost story flick The Changeling
, a baseball (shown to be in a box of their son's possessions in earlier unpacking) comes bouncing down the basement steps to Anne's surprise. Naturally, it's way too early in the movie for anything to truly rear
its ugly head, so Anne is left with a melancholy wonder - as if she
hoped her son would grace her with his ghostly presence.
I'm sure losing a child would be the worst thing that could ever happen to a mother, so it's quite understandable that she is yearning for some kind of proof of life after death. And soon she's relaying her thoughts to her husband, who is much more skeptical of the afterlife, but is also obviously grieving in his own way. They seem to be a tight couple, and Paul is willing to listen to Anne's ravings and truly does offer his comfort as they try to settle in.
After determining that the basement of the house reeks of smoke and is scorchingly hot, Paul calls for an electrician to come look at the boiler. Meanwhile, neighbors Dave (Monte Markham) and Cat (Connie Neer) McCabe come by for a little visit, a little whiskey, and a little tale of the dark history of the Dagmar house - which I will not disclose here. But as the McCabes depart, Cat slips a note into Paul's hand which he opens after closing the door. It reads: THIS HOUSE NEEDS A FAMILY. GET OUT!
When the electrician comes the next day, he is left alone in the basement to work on the boiler and is soon attacked by a supernatural being who is smokin' hot - and not in a good way! It reeks of Lucio Fulci's many cellar horrors, which is never a bad thing. It's our first glimpse of the ghosties that rule the Dagmar house. And the practical effects are a breath of fresh air, thank you.
Anne admits to Paul she has invited their friends May (Lisa Marie) and Jacob (Larry Fessenden!) to come to the house for the weekend - and not just to check out their new digs. The couple both have beliefs in the supernatural and May is said to have psychic abilities, therefore, Anne wants her to see if she can reach out to the other side and contact Bobby. Once the eccentric couple arrives, they head out to eat at the local burger joint - where it is extremely uncomfortable immediately, with all the patrons staring at them and whispering.
Back at the house, May and Jacob's son and his girlfriend have arrived, having also been asked to enjoy the weekend with the
Sacchettis. They make themselves at home and enjoy some whiskey (of note: everyone in this entire movie is obsessed with drinking whiskey. I don't know how the measly bottle keeps on pouring that amber liquid - it's like a biblical miracle) and are just getting busy on the couch when they hear a banging in the other room. The basement to be exact. And like in every horror movie that has come before it, someone has to go check it out. Needless to say, once the others arrive home from dinner, it's like no one was there. Whiskey glasses back in place, music turned off....no sign of anyone.
As the two couples settle in for nightcaps and chatter, the restaurant in town gets a visit from Dave McCabe. He wants to know all about the couples, and what they talked about. He then gives hints as to what really happened in the Dagmar house in the past, and it's none too pretty.
When we get to the part of the film where Anne and May head into town and the boys stay home, you know something is lurking right around the corner. Jacob decides to conduct an ill-advised seance, which just opens the portal ten-fold.
We Are Still Here
, while utilizing plenty of old tropes and clichés
used thousands of times before, is still a very fun and scary way to kill an hour and a half. There's no doubt that having the leads all be adults and not screaming teenagers gives it a credibility missing in most of today's modern horror outings, and for this fan, having both Crampton and Fessenden in one flick is like the rapture. Crampton plays up her usual doe-eyed disbelief well here, and Fessenden playing a new-age stoner - well, I'm not sure it gets better than that. The rest of the cast is very good as well, with the notable exception of Lisa Marie, who either over-played or under-played nearly every scene she occupied. There was no happy medium for her, and it did put me off a bit. Though not enough to ruin the film. Someone like
Illeana Douglas would have been just perfect here. Alas....
The throwback feeling that hearkened back to the early 80's and the Master of Gore, Lucio Fulci, made the film extra special to me. I grew up watching Fulci and all the horrors he unleashed, in particular his favorite kill-spot - the cellar. This film reminded me so much of The House by the Cemetery,
with a little bit of The Beyond
thrown in, that I was nearly blissful and had to watch the film twice before my 48hr rental expired.
Side note: I even read somewhere that the character names in We Are Still Here
are names of characters and actors from THBTC,
so I guess that's an homage if I've ever heard one.
Dealing with depression in a horror film may seem beyond prudent, but I think it opens people up for the horrors within and makes them more susceptible to the evil all around them. Anne was so overcome with grief here that she was actually hoping she could contact her dead son. Then what? Ask him to stay forever? Not allow him to transition to whatever comes next? And she was so certain her son was the presence she felt, she was not able to comprehend that something much more sinister was at work.
The subtle scares here were the best ones, truth be told. A glimpse of a ghoul in a picture frame, a pair of feet seen in the light under the door, someone standing behind a character who can't see them...these are the things that keep us up at night. Even more than the icky ghouls that have an age-old agenda and promise that the Fulci-inspired gore is imminent. And with the final act, we get all the gore we could ask for and more, but it never cheapens the feel of this genuinely enjoyable haunted house offering.
And on that note, I should have some whiskey. Something has got me in the mood!!