We Are Still Here is a haunted house thriller built on meticulous calculation. Writer/director Ted Geoghegan makes it obvious that unspeakable horrors are buried deep beneath this New England-set nightmare’s evil house, yet he doesn’t ruin any surprises early or often. Spirits linger, tension mounts, but nothing truly submerges into darkness until an explosive grand finale that sets a gruesome home restoration in motion with a brand new goretastic look. There are some pacing problems along the way, as we lust for a bloody taste of the action Geoghegan repeatedly teases, but those with more patient horror tenancies will be rewarded in the form of head-splitting insanity.
Geoghegan’s concept is a simple one, calling back to a sleepy town cultism that was more popular in horror films of yesteryear. A time when communities had dark secrets, and the preservation of such beliefs spelled trouble for any outsiders who found themselves too deeply entrenched in violent, often sadistic legends. In We Are Still Here, Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig play the film’s oblivious victims (Anne and Paul Sacchetti), after moving into a house that “awakens” every thirty years. The house’s new inhabitants believe any strange occurrences are just signs from their dead son, providing a strange sense of comfort and closure, but this theory turns out to be wrong. Very wrong.
From here, we learn the dark, fiery history behind a house that demands sacrifices, and if its hunger is not appeased, the cursed scourge threatens to reach farther into town for sustenance. Dave McCabe (Monte Markham), a local neighbor, is tasked with preserving the sanctity of such a bloodthirsty request, and his chilling first introduction plants the seeds of uncertainty in our minds. Markham’s acting is a bit over-the-top, like something out of an early Hammer film, but he’s the kooky “villain” of sorts – and he certainly fits the part. More importantly, we learn about the Dagmar myth, a basement with deadly secrets, and the Sacchetti’s undead predicament through him.
It’s the sprouting of said seeds that presents a bit of trouble, though, as stall tactics and some lifeless exchanges of dialogue fail to generate a constant energy that flows throughout We Are Still Here. When Geoghegan’s maniacal vision is embraced in full, charred bodies invade the deepest reaches of our mind, but these jolts are accompanied by an airlessness between characters who spend most of the film just chatting about ghouls. Crampton, a soap opera alum, and Sensenig waver between moments of sweet understanding and bland, emotionless connections, but these sobering downbeats aren’t overly detrimental. They aren’t ignored, but in the grand scheme of We Are Still Here, lapses into wooden performing somehow become weirdly acceptable and tonally hidden. Except Michael Patrick Nicholson’s drab car-ride dialogue.
But whenever Crampton and Sensenig lose their energy, Larry Fessenden is there to shoulder the charismatic burden of We Are Still Here. Lisa Marie plays the other half of this stoners-who-talk-to-the-dead couple, but it’s Fessenden who steals almost every single scene away from the likes of a heralded genre icon (namely Crampton). Fessenden elevates himself by being so much more than a simple supporting actor, unlocking a whole slew of different faces that span from “lovable goofball” to “hate-spewing possession victim” – the latter thanks to a convincing seance sequence. Markham might hit upon a rigid sense of camp, but Fessenden teaches a masterclass on how to be entertaining, engaging, and 100% endearing.
Then again, any We Are Still Here post-screening conversations will revolve around Geoghegan’s third act, which is an ultra-chaotic fight for survival that thunderously rages on like a blood-red fireworks display. Sparked from fire and brimstone, Anne and Paul find themselves caught between the burned remains of 1800s entities, angry townsfolk blasting shotguns, and their son’s forsaken memory. Imagine treating yourself to Applebee’s for a generic appetizer and a satisfying-enough dinner, and then indulging in the richest, most decadent dessert from Cronut king Dominique Ansel – that’s the strength Geoghegan’s third act possesses.
So yes, you’re watching We Are Still Here for the epic conclusion. The pedigrees of Crampton and Fessenden are enough to entice throwback audiences who might enjoy the thin, more grounded tone of this vile urban legend, but audiences who need a little more substance in a film’s first and second acts will be tested. If you can last, and the snowy Massachusetts nothingness doesn’t eat away at your tolerance for boredom (not my words), then you’ll understand why festival goers were raving about Geoghegan’s unexpected splatterfest. It’s a two-thirds marathon followed by an exhausting, deranged sprint – pace yourself and you should be fine.
We Are Still Here is a macabre throwback to isolated haunted house flicks that sports an explosive, pulse-pounding and genuinely intense third act.