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October 29, 2017

We Are Still Here

by Franz Patrick


We Are Still Here (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensening) purchase a house in the country after their son’s death. Two weeks after moving in, Anne begins to feel as though Bobby’s spirit is still around—as if he were looking over them. As neighbors (Monte Markham, Susan Gibney) from down the road visit and welcome them, the new homeowners learn a little bit about the house’s history. Not only had it been a funeral parlor, but rumor has it that the former owner had sold the bodies to the university and businesses with customers having a penchant for human meat.

Written and directed by Ted Geoghegan, “We Are Still Here” is a piece of work that is clearly made by someone who loves and understands horror films. From the off-putting but highly effective pre-title sequence to the bizarre final shot, the increasing level of menace fascinates—which is very necessary in order to create a horror movie that one cannot help but think about for at least several minutes once the closing credits appear.

There is a scene that not once hits a false note. It involves Anne putting away Bobby’s things in the kitchen and hearing a noise coming from the cellar. This is dangerous ground because such a setup is tired, cliché, and asking for criticism. Although I was impressed by the writer-director’s decisions up to that moment, especially those of lingering shots of the various locations of the house, I remained unconvinced that the scene about to transpire would be inspired. I was elated to have been proven otherwise.

Anne goes down the cellar with a flashlight. The stairs creak. Dust is seen through the beam of light. Nothing new here, nothing impressive. Then the scares begin. Rather, they creep in. There is a preternatural patience from behind the camera: how it moves, when it goes for a close-up, when it zooms out. There is silence, darkness, and occasional noises Anne decides to follow. Slowly we become invested in the moment. We see an apparition… sort of. Perhaps it is simply too dark.

But the masterstroke is that Anne is not scared, never a wilting thing who asks, “Hello?” during the potentially unwise investigation. During the final few moments of the scene, we are allowed to look at Anne’s face. Notice there is no fear in those sad and experienced eyes. In fact, she appears to be relishing the moment because she is convinced that the spirit in that cellar with her is that of her son’s. We, the audience, feel fear or alarm but what she feels is actually some sort of comfort. This is the point in the film where, I think, there is no denying she is the central protagonist. Less realized films fail to offer moments like this one.

There are plenty more to recommend, from the colorful characters introduced later on to the stilted dialogue that sounds forced but actually an ode to dubbed Italian horror flicks. There is an over-the-top level of violence during the final fifteen minutes but these, too, are made in reference. Experienced horror fans are likely to appreciate the film because it is, in a way, a love letter for them, for us.

I must refrain from revealing more because “We Are Still Here” is best seen when one has limited knowledge about its plot and dark secrets. But I would like to bring up its central weakness which involves an over reliance with its bedroom scenes. In a movie that functions on a high level of creativity, it is almost insulting that two or three scenes revolve around characters sleeping, waking up at the exact same time the previous night, and experiencing something strange. Geoghegan should have chosen a less predictable route or removed it altogether. It goes to show that there is a very thin line between giving a wink to its inspirations and delivering cliché.

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