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Monday, October 5, 2015

Review: WE ARE STILL HERE Tries Something New with Haunted House Story

Since the coming of Paranormal Activity, the last decade's horror films have been overrun with haunted house/home invasion stories. There have been a few gems in there, but most end up best forgotten, or remembered solely as "that movie with the creepy [insert doll, ventriloquist dummy, etc. here]." They tend to be unoriginal and chock full of jump scares with little or no substance underneath. In Ted Geoghegan's feature length directorial debut, We Are Still Here, he aims to correct this, attempting to blend in family drama and historical horror in a pretty ambitious way.

We Are Still Here takes place in the late '70s and primarily follows the Sacchettis, a couple whose college age son has recently died in a car crash. They move to a new house in wintry New England to escape bad memories, but find that strange things are happening in the house. Anne (Barbara Crampton) thinks it is the spirit of their son, but her husband (Andrew Sensenig) is skeptical about the supernatural. When the events start becoming violent, they invite family friends and supernatural enthusiasts May and Jacob (Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden, respectively) to the house, but find that the creepy and hostile community into which they have moved is hiding a deadly secret.

One of the first things to notice about the film is it's odd pace; in the beginning it is a very quiet, patient story not unlike Ti West's best films, but it escalates into something much more violent and bloody very quickly. While it felt a bit strange at first, I realized that it actually made for some very shocking moments–they don't feel out of place, but they are wholly unexpected. It is a unique blend of quiet suspense and full volume horror, and it works more often than not in the film.

Another interesting thing that comes out of this style is that the gore is uniquely non-glorified. By the end, the film becomes quite bloody with a few spectacularly gory deaths, but unlike your average slasher, you won't cheer for these kills. Because we have become pretty intimate with these characters and because of the quiet nature of the first half of the film, these deaths feel genuinely horrifying and real. This is exceptionally rare and difficult to pull off–the last time I remember feeling real loss for a character might be The Descent–and it was refreshing to see.

Barbara Crampton, a bit of a legend for horror fans for her parts in Re-Animator and From Beyond, does a great job in the lead role as the tortured mother who wants so badly for this malevolent haunting to just be the spirit of her son. Additionally, Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden, both genre mainstays as well with the latter being a pretty accomplished director to boot, are quite good. At the climax of the film, there is a possession that happens that is pretty genuinely disturbing, and the talent of Marie and Fessenden is on full display there. Unfortunately, the film is tainted a bit by a very stiff performance by Sensenig as the skeptical husband, who often seems like he's reading off cue cards. Of the core group, he sticks out like a sore thumb, and his character often drew me out of the tension of the film.  

We Are Still Here is a film that is brimming with ambition; it attempts to build a world with a strong sense of history and community that is essential to the film, and blends the ideas of a family drama, a haunted house story, and a creepy community with dark secrets into a single story. However high it set its sights, it unfortunately falls a little short, partly due to the short 84 minute run time. It throws a lot of ideas–some very good ones–at the wall, but doesn't necessarily find a way to naturally work them all into a very small space. The result is a film that feels ripe with possibility and is in some ways very fresh, but doesn't quite nail it. All in all, We Are Still Here is a worthwhile watch despite its flaws, and Geoghegan is a new voice in horror that I'm sure will make a more consistent mark on the genre soon.

We Are Still Here comes out on Blu Ray and DVD tomorrow, 10/6/15, and is available on Amazon.com.
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