We Are Still Here (2015) [FrightFest 2015]

we-are-still-here-03-630

FrightFest 2015

Anne and Paul Sacchetti lost their son to a car accident. In an effort to move on, they relocate to New England, to a quaint looking house made for a family. No sooner have they arrived do odd things start happening. Higher than normal heat in the basement, frames falling over, possible apparitions, … A few weeks into their living there, the Sacchettis are visited by the McCabe and are told that the house needs a family. As the phenomena multiply, Anne becomes certain it’s their dead son letting them know he’s there with them. To get to the bottom of this, she invites her friend May who is a medium to come spend a weekend and possibly try to reach her son. Once May and her husband Jacob arrive, something is clearly not right. One day, while May and Anne are out shopping, the men have a séance which turns very bad and is followed by all hell breaking loose.

The story by Writer/Director Ted Geoghegan, based on a concept by Richard Griffin, grabs the viewer’s attention early on and never lets go. The wonder as to whom or what is responsible for all the spookiness is not spoiled until necessary and until it can add to the scares. The atmosphere is generally filled with dread and a few lighter scenes to give the viewer a change to breath and to give the next scares more power. The characters are skillfully written, giving the actors real people to portray and making one care about what becomes of them. Even the “bad” guys have a bit of depth which is much too rare in horror these days.

These characters are portrayed by a talented cast lead by Barbara Crampton as Anne who gives a strong performance as a bereaved mother who, no matter what she does, always has at least a tinge of sadness in her eyes. As her husband Paul, Andrew Sensenig shows concern even when clearly not on board with some of her ideas. This comes through Sensenig’s performance really well. As the Lewises, May and Jacob, Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden give their all as their characters are put through the ringer. Monte Markham, as Dave McCabe, rounds out the living characters by giving us a concerned, but perhaps too concerned and possibly crazy neighbor who shows multiple facets to his character through the movie. Last but not least, there is the Dagmar family, played by Guy Crane, Elissa Dowling, and Zorah Burress, who have more physical parts as their features are mostly covered. As such, they make for a spooky, creepy trio who brings on the scares when they are on screen.

In We Are Still Here, there is another character, somewhat, as the house is an integral part of the story. The house, décor, costumes, all add to the story and its feel. They add to the late ‘70s setting, to the characters as each has a style that complements their personalities without being too in your face about it, which is often not the case in recent throwback cinema. The set décor and the house itself bring a lot to this story of grief and fear; they embody both the sense of loss and dread that the lead characters are under. Also, all these aspects are well anchored in the ‘70s, bringing plenty homages to the era’s chilling horror films, these being subtle but most definitely there.

Getting all of this on screen while keeping the feelings and emotions of the scenes is the beautiful cinematography by Karim Hussain which takes you to the North East countryside in winter with the opening shot almost making the audience feel the cold of the region through the screen and those first few images. It looks like one cold, desolate winter and feels like it as well. The cinematography here is subtle, like a lot of the other aspects of the film, bringing the moodiness of ‘70s horror films.

As in most horror movies, the effects here are important. The bulk of them is in the second half of the movie, with a few bursts here and there in the first half. The Dagmars and their victims are the main source of gore and blood here. The family’s burnt look is effective and the mix of practical effects and cgi works beautifully well here. However, their white or milky eyes seemed a bit predictable or over done in the last few years, something that did not feel quite ‘70s. That being said, any time one of these characters are on screen, their presence and look bring up a sense of dread, a fear. The other effects, mainly in the final third of the film, are well done and effective, the blood looks realistic in most scenes, something necessary to not take the viewer out of the experience. The effects add to the story as opposed to detract as often happened in the ‘70s movies this film was inspired by.

We Are Still Here delivers on the scares while showing a story of loss. It’s effective and works on many levels, not the least of which being how it homages scary movies of the 1970s.
This reviewer needs to add one note here: I have the great luck of knowing the shop effects manager on this production, but I do hope I was able to review the film fairly.