New England winters don’t mess around—they cut right through you. Once the temperature drops and the trees shed their leaves, your best bet is to hibernate like a local: Stick to the indoors, preferably curled up next to a well-tended hearth (even more preferably clutching a mug of hot buttered rum). But in Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here, you’re better off taking your chances in the great outdoors.
The film is a Lucio Fulci throwback, though that word does the Italian director’s work a slight disservice. Throwback projects tend to be movies about movies, their prevailing messages sometimes reading as a desperate attempt to both demonstrate and siphon cred from well-established filmmakers. Ti West’s The House of the Devil, for example, seems to really only want to communicate the fact that West has seen Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby—which isn’t a particularly interesting approach to making a movie.
We Are Still Here doesn’t bother covering up its roots, either. It’s the Fulci-est movie Fulci never actually shot. In fact, if he still roamed the earth today, he’d most likely gaze upon Geoghegan’s efforts with tacit approval. Like the specters that haunt Geoghegan’s protagonists, the presence of the Italian maestro can be felt in each of We Are Still Here’s frames. But there’s homage, and then there’s lazy homage, and Geoghegan has made the former—though in fairness his influences range from Fulci to Dan Curtis and Stuart Rosenberg. Geoghegan has even called on H.P. Lovecraft to supply his fictional setting. We Are Still Here does not lack for pedigree.
It’s traditional in the horror genre that running away from personal tragedy tends to beget more personal tragedy. So, when Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) Sacchetti move from “the city” to Aylesbury, Massachusetts after the death of their college-aged son, Bobby, they shack up in a century-old farmhouse so isolated that their new neighbors don’t notice anybody’s home for a whole two weeks. While Anne is wrapped up in the fantods, Paul tries stoically to assuage his wife’s grief (as well as his own) without tipping off his incredulity over her claims that she can “feel” Bobby in the house with them. That’s the first bad sign. The second, third and so on each fall under the umbrella of “haunting staples”: Picture frames shatter; floorboards creak; the electrician is mauled in the basement by a charred, pale-eyed ghost—you know, nothing special, except boy, those ghosts are a sight.
Throughout these early frights, Geoghegan wisely shows restraint instead of playing coy. Things start going bump, not just in the night but during the day, too, well within five minutes of We Are Still Here’s opening sequence. In part, the film’s willingness to dig in stems from a respect for time limits. (It’s not even 90 minutes long.) There just simply isn’t enough wiggle room to put off fear. Geoghegan knows that the party has to start sooner than later. So he immediately places shadowy, sinister figures in the background while focusing on Crampton’s mournful gaze in the foreground. Anne and Paul barely have the luxury of being bereaved. The audience, meanwhile, is spared from falling into a lull while waiting for something, anything, to happen. Before too long, Geoghegan invites a bevy of new guests into the domicile, including May and Jacob Lewis (Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden), Anne’s hippie-dippie spiritual friends, as well as Aylesbury’s sinister townspeople, led by Dave McCabe (Monte Markham), who each have a morbid stake in the comings and goings of Anne’s and Paul’s household.
Lambs to the slaughter, of course. We Are Still Here’s first half feels like a slow burn in comparison to its second, where all hell is erumpent and cinematographer Karim Hussain frantically but steadily sprints from one room to the next, capturing as much peripheral carnage as possible. In a lesser film, Geoghegan’s climax would be a signal to the viewer to wake up. In We Are Still Here, it provides an unexpected burst of escalated, gory furor.
The movie never wants for scares. It might actually be the single most terrifying movie of 2015, even next to David Robert Mitchell’s acclaimed and unsettling It Follows. But Geoghegan handles the transition smoothly, from the story We Are Still Here begins as to the bloodbath it becomes. There’s no sense of baiting or switching; the director flirts with danger confidently throughout. Plus, there’s that New England winter to add an extra layer of despair. The elements forebode and forbid in equal measure. The weather outside is frightful…and the carbonized wraiths in the basement even more so.
Director: Ted Geoghegan
Writer: Ted Geoghegan
Starring: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, Larry Fessenden, Monte Markham
Release Date: June 6, 2015
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% Vermont craft brews.