Sydney Film Festival Review: We Are Still Here (USA, 2014)

we are still here review

Most of the crew involved in We Are Still Here are veterans to the horror genre, and their collective talents come together beautifully in this half satire, half serious story. Director Ted Geoghegan pays homage to the vintage and slightly cheesy, always stringing a thread of self-awareness through the film while it unfolds with a spirited sense of fun often lost on the horror films of today.

The isolated snowy surrounds of New England is where we land for this tragic tale, sticking with the Sacchettis – Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) – who are moving into some new digs following the recent death of their son Bobby in a car accident. The couple are grieving in their own ways, with Anne demonstrating a deep-seated sadness which manifests in what seem like delusions. The mother can ‘feel’ her son in the new house, mistaking a malevolent presence for a benevolent one. By contrast, Paul – as thinly drawn as he is – remains skeptical even when neighbours Dave (veteran actor Monte Markham) and his wife Cat (Connie Neer) show up and bond with the Sacchettis over the horrible history of their new home.

As it turns outs, Anne and Paul have just unknowingly moved into what used to be a funeral home owned by a family, the Dagmar’s, who were seemingly put to fire by the townspeople for burying empty coffins and selling corpses. It’s a purposefully expository scene with all the tried and tired tropes of evil home horror; though neither the film nor it’s intended audience ask for any more than a throwback to when horror was less about subtlety and more about on-the-nose terror.

It’s not long before both Anne and Dave are on the same page about the house and, in particular, it’s very suspect cellar, which fires up to inexplicably high temperatures and sports an ominous dark hole from which shadows appear. Not content on staying alone, the couple invite their friends Jacob (Larry Fessenden) and May (Lisa Marie) to keep them company for at least a few days. Both Jacob and May are painted as stereotypical, left-field “hippies” who are apt to seances and communicating with the dead, at least in May’s case.

Performances are purposely exaggerated, as is much of the gore that results from the darkened spirits who appear as charred, slightly on-fire, corpses with black eyes and fierce expressions. This intentional overacting does give the film some genuinely funny moments, but keeps most of the scares from making any sort of impact, save for an encounter by a hapless electrician (Marvin Patterson).

The conspiracy sub-plot that seems to mainly be focused on getting more characters into the house for a higher body count is a bit too ridiculous, and it’s unfortunately wasted by a lack of commitment to edgy death scenes. The good ol’ drag-em-under-the-table-and-splash-blood-everywhere trick does little more than add to the red paint sloshed around the house in a particularly violent final act. Very few deaths in this sequence echo the sadistic fun and energy which was promised in the build-up. Even the Chekhov’s gun moment with the old dusty piano post-credits, an obvious piss-take of old horror, does little to make up for what feels like a wasted opportunity to really fill the screen with wall-to-wall chaos.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running time: 86 minutes

We Are Still Here screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival. More details can be found HERE