Ghost stories and haunted houses are a genre staple, especially among lower budget films. And why not, they let you set most of the film in one location and avoid the expense of shooting at lots of locations. It also helps cut down on the effects budget, no need for expensive creatures, just some humanoid looking specters. It also means the subject has been done and overdone to the point of cliche, coming up with something fresh and interesting is a challenge.
We Are Still Here thankfully doesn’t try to reinvent the genre, it takes it and twists it, keeping the core elements of a house that has seen great evil and that evil manifesting itself to claim new victims but adding an interesting back story that makes the living much more evil than the undead.
Ann and Paul relocate to rural New England after the death of their adult son. Ann is convinced their son’s spirit is still with them while her husband is a skeptic. When strange things start to happen in the house she is even further convinced of his presence. Paul on the other hand is more concerned with things like a neighboring couple showing up uninvited and relating tales of the house’s dark and bloody past. Feeling disconcerted by this plus a nasty incident involving a furnace repairman they invite their friends May and Jacob to visit. Leftover hippies with an interest in the occult they seem the perfect people to put everyone’s mind at rest. They arrive and wait for their son and his girlfriend to join them.
This takes almost half of the movie, and the first time I watched it I found it a bit slow, but on a repeat viewing it became clear just how first time director Ted Geoghegan is building up the tension, layering incident on creepy incident. He actually does this very well considering his credits as a writer have been mostly over the top gorefests such as Sweatshop, Timo Rose’s Barricade and several films for Andreas Schnaas. Films where any kind of plot development or characterization just get in the way of endless carnage.
And carnage there is in the film’s last act. A conspiracy among the townsfolk and the true nature of what is in the house are revealed and it all leads to a jaw droppingly insane climax with blood and body parts strewn everywhere as the dead come to collect their due. The ensuing battle royale between the heroes, the ghosts and a mob of townspeople is a nonstop bloodbath with bodies, shot, burnt, stabbed and torn apart. And it ends on a surprisingly touching, if bloody, note.
After the slow and relatively bloodless buildup it’s impact is greatly magnified. The ghosts themselves are burnt and charred with peeling skin, empty white eyes and a touch that burns. They will haunt your dreams for days after you see the movie. Effects Supervisor Marcus Kotch and his team not only bring them to life but deliver the goods on the killings. But when you consider his involvement with 100 Tears, (which he also directed), American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore and Sweatshop among many others this was a small and pretty restrained job.
As mentioned before the film takes a slow burn approach and what helps make it work is the cast. Genre Fans will recognize several faces including Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie. Veteran character actor Monte Markham is also in the mix. The rest of the cast is solid if unfamiliar and really help to sell the buildup. Crampton and Andrew Sensenig as her husband Paul carry a lot of this on their shoulders as the homeowners who begin to suspect their dream home may be more of a nightmare. Fessenden and Marie also deserve kudos for not letting their characters become cliched “New Age” types and making them work as real human beings.
The cinematography is by Karim Hussain, who despite having built a solid resume as a cameraman, will always be best known as the director of the truly bizarre Subconscious Cruelty. His work here helps sell the house’s isolation somewhere in snowy New England and the creepy claustrophobic feel in the house’s cellar where the ghosts wait…
If you can deal with the slow start this is a great film, with an incredible payoff at the end. Less patient viewers may find themselves hitting fast forward. We Are Still Here is a great film and a very promising directorial debut for Ted Geoghegan. I strongly recommend it.
It’s available on VOD through iTunes, Amazon and other sites as well.
It had it’s Canadian premiere at Fantasia on July 18th and DVD release is scheduled for October 6th.
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