PLOT: In hopes of putting grievous personal trauma behind them, a middle-aged couple moves into a quaint old countryside abode. Only one caveat...the house comes alive every 30 years and demands a human sacrifice.
REVIEW: With more than a decade and double fistful of writing and producing credits under his belt, filmmaker Ted Geoghegan finally makes his debut directorial foray with WE ARE STILL HERE, a well tuned homage to the foggy, deliberately paced '70s haunted house yarns that lull you into a false sense of ease before bludgeoning you with a cathartically conclusive wallop. Scripted by Geoghegan from a concept by schlock-hound Richard Griffin, WE ARE STILL HERE boasts a familiar premise about a couple moving into a troubled old abode deep in the country, but through its obvious affection for the form, cleverly careens into unforeseen corners of the haunted structure in a way that offers tidy new furnishings. With a slow-burn beginning and a kinetic balls-to-the-wall finale, here's a movie that loudly proclaims to disenfranchised fans of old-school halcyon horror flicks: WE ARE STILL HERE!
Andrew Sensenig (THE LAST EXORCISM II) and Hall-of-Fame scream queen Barbara Crampton (RE-ANIMATOR, CHOPPING MALL) star as Paul and Anne Sacchetti, a bereaved middle-aged couple still grieving the accidental death of their teenage son. As a way to cope, if not heal entirely, the Sacchetti's decide to take residence in a decrepit old New England abode in the middle of the woods. Always a wise move, right? Um, never. As soon as they arrive, Anne immediately senses something amiss inside the house. An ominous presence is felt. Strange noises and broken picture frames turn up. Sure, she's the shakier of the two, but Anne insists the strange occurrences could be the lingering spirit of their deceased Bobby. Paul lightly massages the paranoia, saying we'll always remember our boy in our hearts, but for God sakes, not in this house. Problem solved, yes?
You know well and good it's not. Anne invites her dippy, quasi-clairvoyant friends May (Lisa Marie) and Jacob (Larry Fessenden) over to conduct a séance. Paul's thrilled. But no matter how powerful or in touch the medium is with the other side, no one can prepare the foursome of the reality that the house itself comes alive every 30 years and sacrificially feeds on whichever new family is in its grasp. According to creepily portentous neighbors David and Cat McCabe (Monte Markham and Connie Neer), a disturbed corpse-selling-grave-robber named Dagmar was the first to own the house back in 1859. Worse yet, unbeknownst to them, the basement of the house has come to resemble a hellish dungeon harboring a host of blackened, char-faced demonic cellar-dwellers with the illest of intentions. Could it be Dagmar's malefic spirit in desperate need of feeding? Could it be Dagmar's ghostly victims? For crying out loud, what's a quartet of harried 50-somethings to do about all this madness?
Here's where I let go of your hand and let you wander into the house to discover how this all plays out. But rest assured, if this flick sounds like something you've seen many times before, you're likely to reassess that stance once the credits roll. This is a case of a movie starting a bit sluggish and over-familiar, flimsy even, but not only picks up the pace as forward momentum begins to build, it also grows stronger and stronger until an undeniably emboldened denouement grabs hold and squeezes you into submission. Really, given how the film establishes a deliberate pace and low-budget sensibility, there's no real reason to expect how gnarly shit ends up becoming in the final third. I for one was taken aback. Pleasantly so. I can't even tell you how many small movies like this I've seen that start slow, stay slow and end slow. Not the case with WE ARE STILL HERE. This movie takes its time before shifting gears, yes, but when it finally revs into high-speed toward the finish line, it's bound to leave a gorily ineffable mark on you as it did me. Bring a goddamn rain slicker!
Beyond the pleasantly abrupt tonal and temporal shift in the second half, one of the things I really dug about the flick is the inspired casting of older actors, particularly of seasoned genre vets Crampton and Fessenden. It's not only a joy to see a horror flick starring an older set, but it's really cool to see Babs still able turn in an internally tormented performance, emoting most of the time through her eyes and mopey body language (she's still sexy too!) Then there's the great indie genre stalwart Larry Fessenden, who injects instant life into this movie at an absolutely needed point in the story. Just when the plot threatened to sag into a laborious tedium, here comes Fessenden with a twisted joint in his lip and a grounded sense of humor to shake things up. Once he and Lisa Marie arrive on the scene, the story really takes off to new heights. Really, how many movies these days star anyone other than a perfect-smiled Abercrombie model? Very few. It's refreshing to see adults of this caliber bring the grave and gravitas to a story that would probably fold in the hands of lesser actors.
So yeah, all in all, I urge you to peep WE ARE STILL HERE as soon as you get the chance. Even with a musty redolence of classic 70s slow-burners like BURNT OFFERINGS, THE SENTINEL, THE CHANGELING, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, etc. - new depths are plumbed within the haunted house subgenre that certainly warrants a look from true fans of the form. After slogging its way to the half-hour mark, the flick really hits its stride until finally unleashing utter mayhem in the final 15 minutes or so. Of course, none of this would be as effective without the presence of horror mainstays Crampton and Fessenden, who lend instant credibility to the proceedings. In a way, the subtextual casting of these two echo the larger statement made by Goeghegan with the throwback nature of the film itself...damn it...WE ARE STILL HERE!