Monday, June 8, 2015

Review: We Are Still Here

by Patrick Bromley
Be sure to stick with this one.

2014 was such a good year for independent horror films that there's almost no way 2015 could compete. There are have certainly been a few good ones so far: Adam Green's Digging Up the Marrow is fun and I suspect both Spring and especially It Follows are going to be all-timers. But the great ones have been fewer and further between. Now Ted Geoghegan's We Are Still Here seeks to be the next on that list of great indie horror, and damn if it doesn't come close.

The great Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig play Anne and Paul, a married couple who move into a new house while reeling from the loss of their college-age son in an auto accident. After a few strange occurrences and noises that Anne believes must be her son communicating with them, she enlists the help of their more "spiritual" (read: hippie) friends May (Lisa Marie) and Jacob (Larry Fessenden) to make contact. What they instead discover is that there are spirits in the house that aren't their son, and the spirits aren't happy. They hold a grudge against the town that goes back 100 years, and they're looking to settle the score.
There will be a lot of reviews that call We Are Still Here "slow burn" horror, because that's the label that gets applied to anything these days that is methodically paced or which features long periods of silence in the buildup to something big. Those things do describe the movie, even though "slow burn" isn't entirely accurate -- writer/director Geoghegan doesn't stretch out the question of "is the house haunted?" and even shows us some charred ghosts fairly early on. But he does take his time for the first two thirds, using the deadness in the air of his wintery setting to establish a feeling of dread. We know the bad things are coming but we're forced to wait, bearing witness to the inevitable. The waiting...the dread...that's what being scary is.

And when the bad things come, boy do they come -- the last half hour of the movie is one of those sequences that's going to be talked about by horror fans for years to come. I've heard We Are Still Here compared to the work of Lucio Fulci, and it's easy to understand why. Not only is Geoghegan working with Fulci's favorite theme of "something evil awakening under the house," but he creates mounting dread and knows to cut loose and go totally bonkers at the climax. Though it's never as abstract or exploitative as a Fulci film, there's certainly a good deal of his DNA in the movie. I mean this as a compliment.
Geoghegan has worked in horror for much of his career but hasn't directed a whole lot and, as such, still seems to be finding his way a little. There are moments in We Are Still Here that are haunting and evocative, and then there are others in which the rhythms feel kind of clumsy, the framing too basic. The performances are uneven as well. Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden are great as always, as is Monte Markham as Paul and Anne's creepy new neighbor. More problematic are Lisa Marie, never quite convincing as a clairvoyant, and Sensenig as Crampton's husband Paul. There is a stiffness to his work that goes beyond that with which he tries to imbue his disbelieving character, and it has the unfortunate effect of breaking the spell of the movie at times.

The stuff that works really, really works, and I have a strong suspicion that We Are Still Here is going to grow on me as the year goes on. As much as it wants to be a meditation on loss and grief, I love that Geoghegan can't help himself from making a movie about pissed off ghosts looking for revenge. Many contemporary horror films are posing as sensationalistic in order to express deeper ideas about the world; We Are Still Here is sort of the opposite in that it seems on the surface to be something morose and metaphoric but is really just a nasty, balls-out haunted house movie. As someone who has a tendency to lose patience with the creaky floorboards and slamming doors of most haunted house movies, I'm thrilled to see one that really puts its ghost money where its ghost mouth is.
Whatever its rough edges may be (and I love a movie with rough edges, as it's often where the film's character comes from), I really dig We Are Still Here and only like it more the more I think about it. The position of critic can be difficult sometimes, as I'm required to have my mind made up about a movie after living with it for only a short time. I mean, I had reservations about Starry Eyes when I first reviewed it and now that's become one of my favorite horror movies of the last 10 years. So it's no faint praise when I say that I'm incredibly excited to see We Are Still Here again. It's only been 48 hours since I saw it but there are moments and images that are stuck in my brain, particularly from those last 30 minutes. Say what you will about the movie -- after all, very few worthwhile films are for everyone -- but it's hard to argue with how spectacular that finale is. It's a showstopper.


  1. There was a moment about halfway through this where there is a normal conversation going on between the husband and wife in the living room with a view of a closet or basement door in the background. The camera moves a little during this and the scene cuts. I looked at my wife and said "did you see that?! The door just opened really slowly behind them during that scene!" I rewound it - the door did not move at all, it was just the camera movement. That's a great example though of how the atmosphere had sucked me in to the fullest and I imagined that happened. Also, Patrick isn't lying, the payoff is fantastic!

  2. Nice! I'm excited to check it out.

  3. Thanks for putting this on my radar, Fessenden and Barbara Crampton, im in, I dont mind a slow burn, cheers

    1. Dennis, don't worry about the slow burn, I think you'll dig this.