Monday, July 25, 2016

We Are Still Here (2015)

Twenty minutes or so into “We Are Still Here” and I was struggling to see what the hubbub was about. For the past year, all I’ve heard is how good of a ghost story it is. Yet, I found the buildup to be too pedestrian. A married couple, Paul & Anne Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig & Barbara Crampton), move into an isolated house in New England following the death of their son. Pictures of their son begin to crack, the floorboards creak, and the cellar smells like smoke and is always burning up, despite there no signs of reason.

Once the reasoning is revealed, the film is still rather pedestrian. The townsfolk reveal the former denizens of the Sacchetti’s new home hid dead bodies in the cellar, selling some to universities for study and others as a secret ingredient in the town’s food establishments. Once word got around, the family was ambushed by an angry mob and killed. The family still haunts the
place, awakening every thirty years to feed.

Paul & Anne just so happen to have friends who perform séances, despite Paul’s skepticism. Those friends are Jacob & May Lewis (Larry Fessenden & Lisa Marie) and not only are they invited, but so is their son, Harry (Michael Patrick), and his girlfriend, Daniella (Kelsea Dakota), for the sole purpose of building a body count. For as much as this is a ghost story, it’s also a slasher flick at heart. Characters are introduced in order to move the story along and to be ghost fodder.

A better comparison would be to state that “We Are Still Here” is like a Lucio Fulci movie. The story itself is formulaic, using the mechanics of a common story to accompany Lucio’s trademarks. The ghosts are represented as human charcoal and are as fierce as a demon. There’s no shortage of bloodletting, with characters being badly burnt, having their hearts ripped out, and their heads lopped off. It’s all grimy and intense.

The only difference in Ted Geoghegan’s direction is his slow build approach. He takes his time setting up the characters and paranormal activity, which is both a good and bad thing. A good thing because it develops tension and makes the events all the more impactful, as they’re not crammed down one’s throat throughout. The bad thing is it’s too vanilla to hook the viewer, causing some to give up before the film picks up.

Once it does pick up is when I realized why people are so gung-ho about this film. Get past the pedestrian aspects of the story and you’re in for a treat! The aforementioned Lucio Fulci influences help spice things up and pique one’s interest. However, it’s Geoghegan’s writing and direction that eventually puts this film on the map.

While the general flow of the film is threadbare, Ted incorporates many nice little touches to make it move smoother. Little touches such as having Paul constantly drinking (practically in every scene) but never drawing attention to it. He develops the fact that Paul has resorted to alcoholism to deal with his son’s death without being too overt with it. It shows great restraint on his part and allows the audience to connect with the characters without anything being forced upon them.

What really helps set the film apart is its little twist in the formula. A house needing to be fed every thirty years isn’t altogether new, but the gimmick hasn’t been used to such intelligence as it was here. Geoghegan uses the gimmick to explain away the downfalls that normally plague ghost stories. Paul & Anne aren’t going to immediately leave due to Paul’s skepticism and Anne’s belief that it’s their son communicating with them beyond the grave. Even when they decide it’s time to leave (in timely fashion, no less), the townsfolk won’t let them. Dave McCabe (Monte Markham), the leader of the town mob, reveals that, if the house isn’t supplied a family every thirty years, the spirits escape and can overtake the town. This adds significant threats all around and is a good excuse as to why everyone is entrapped by the house. It also coyly explains why, early on in the film, one of the ghosts is able to escape the house and hunt down Daniella.

“We Are Still Here” suffers from its formula, but Geoghegan is able to overcome those shortcomings with clever writing and tight direction. It may take a little while for him to find his footing, but once he does it’s smooth sailing.

MVT: Ted Geoghegan. His script and direction helps set the film apart from other ghost stories. Once the shit hits the fan, he does an excellent job of keeping a tight grasp on it all.

Make or Break: The reveal that the townsfolk are purposely sacrificing families to the house. This helped in not only moving the story along, but providing sufficient drama, tension, and reasoning for everyone’s actions.
Final Score: 7/10

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