To hell with poltergeists: ‘We Are Still Here’ makes haunted house horror fun again

posterWe Are Still Here
Written & Directed by Ted Geoghegan
USA, 2015

If your real estate agent ever describes a house as a “unique fixer-upper, unoccupied for 30 years,” for the love of God… don’t buy it! It’s a lesson that no one seems to learn in horror movies. Luckily, Ted Geoghegan’s directorial debut takes the haunted house thriller to new and exciting places while still honoring the genre conventions that we love. We Are Still Here is an unsettling affair that smolders a long time before finally bursting into flame. Easily one of 2015’s best horror films so far.

Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig) are an aging married couple on the run. Not from the law, but from their own grief. Two months ago, their son Bobby was killed in a tragic car accident. Anne is inconsolable and Paul is busy crawling into the bottom of a bottle. They decide a change of scenery would do them good, so they abandon their place in the city to buy a quaint house in the tiny hamlet of Aylesbury.

Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones with a tragic past. Their house, constructed in 1859 to serve as the town’s funeral parlor, has a whole heap of history and none of it is good. After a couple of weirdo neighbors, Dave (Monte Markham) and Cat (Connie Neer), inform the Sacchettis that the previous tenants were run off for selling dead bodies, it doesn’t take long for things to get freaky. Anne is convinced that Bobby’s spirit is hanging out in the cellar, so she calls her mystic friends, Jacob (Larry Fessenden) and May (Lisa Marie), to get a read on the house’s juju. Let’s just say, the juju has a decidedly paranormal flavor.

It’s so refreshing to find a horror movie that actually takes the time to build suspense. Rather than relying on cheap jump scares to trick the audience, writer-director Ted Geoghegan fills every frame with dread. Mostly, it’s the stillness and calm that keep you off-balance. A shadow here, a rumble there, a subtle droning on the soundtrack… it all adds up to something far more sinister than loud noises and pyrotechnics can simulate. You could say this is an ‘old fashioned’ horror flick, but it has a quirky sensibility that also connects with modern horror. Basically, Geoghegan leads you into the trap of trying to predict the unpredictable, with very disturbing results.

mom whackedWhile younger audiences may bristle at the veteran cast (including television luminary Markham), they are the perfect choice for such a subdued atmosphere. This isn’t a teenage-slasher picture with a rabble of faceless (and personality-free) victims. This is a story about real people struggling with histories that can’t simply be buried. There is a day of reckoning on the horizon, and when it finally arrives, there will be hell to pay. Bloody good hell!

We Are Still Here is all about the details you aren’t quite sure you noticed. Did you actually see what you thought you just saw? What was that noise? What are the neighbors hiding? Geoghegan is in no hurry to reveal the answers, building the tension to almost unbearable levels. We also get lots of delightful callbacks to horror classics, like the bouncing ball from The Changeling, or the most inhospitable pub since The Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London. There is a new and exciting voice at work here, but it respects the genre enough to reinvigorate its conventions rather than plunder them.

fesseThe cast is a sheer delight, led by Crampton’s performance as the rapidly-unhinging mother. Sensenig adds a steadying force, which is critical amidst a cast of flakes that include Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden. Why can’t Fessenden be in every movie? He’s channeling his best Nicholson here, complete with crazy eyes and electrified hair. Add the barren winter landscape to the mix and you’ve got a definite Shining vibe.

We Are Still Here is a fun little love letter to the horror films we grew up on, but that doesn’t mean it’s playing around. It’s deadly serious about scaring the hell out of you with its creepy atmosphere, off-kilter characters, and first-rate visual effects. We Are Still Here is an endlessly entertaining horrorshow that proves, once again, some fixer-uppers are better left unfixed.

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