If there is something I hate about most modern movies, it’s winter. You see, growing up in the North East, you know snow. You simply know everything about it. You are as intimate with it as you would be with a lover. You know how it sounds, how it feels, how it looks, how it tastes, how it smells. This is because winter isn’t simply snow. It’s cold and salt and dirt and ice and dog piss, as well. All of these factors add up to one of the biggest pains in the ass that God ever created. Winter. It’s a bitch to drive in, shrivels your balls and makes your nipples hard for no reason other than to test your hardiness. In movies, they try to fake snow and winter often and I never buy it, I always know when it’s on a set. There are the rare exclusions to this rule, but, typically a movie fucks up winter and it will often pull me out of the narrative, in turn ruining the flick for me. Ted Geoghegan’s first feature length film, WE ARE STILL HERE, embraces snow and all of its attributes. You see, winter is also desolate and often leaves you with a sense of hopelessness, especially once you been cooped up inside for close to 6 months. From the opening frames of WE ARE STILL HERE, you can taste the elements of the often harsh New England winter, immediately establishing the tone for the movie as it sucks you in to its moody, slow burn.
WE ARE STILL HERE may at first seem like the same old haunted house/ghost story that has been told in every major studio release the last 5 years. And this means most anything from James Wan (THE CONJURING). The tag line, “The House Needs A Family,” even reinforces this. A middles aged couple, played by Andrew Sensenig (POWERS) and Barbara Crampton (RE-ANIMATOR, YOU’RE NEXT), has moved into a home in rural New England after losing their son in a tragic car accident. Shit immediately gets weird, leading the mother to believe their dead son’s spirit has come with them. We’ve seen this movie before, right? I hate to disappoint you, but this is about where it stops being a cliché.
You see, WE ARE STILL HERE goes someplace else and borrows its inspiration from a well deeper than the glossy, CGI infested fair we’ve been force fed by the big studios. Pulp is the secret here, both from the printed page and the silver screen, and you can smell the influence of their respective mildewed pages and melted celluloid as clearly as you can the snow. Ted Geoghegan hasn’t made a mass market frosted affair with WE ARE STILL HERE, but he certainly has beaten Guillermo Del Toro to the punch with the best Lovecraftian horror movie in recent memory. By further including a smoking dash of the classic drive-in Italian zombie B-movies, Geoghegan has created something old, yet new, and certainly not typical of our current screen scares.
The town at the center of the narrative, Aylesbury, even sounds Lovecraftian. In fact, WE ARE STILL HERE has the grocery list of ingredients required for a classic HP Lovecraft story. New England setting? Check! Creepy townies with a hidden agenda? Check! An ancient, un-named evil? Check! A sense of paranoia and hopelessness? Hell yeah! The film moves like a New England winter, slow and prodding, establishing the mood. Adding to this, the period is hard to nail down, and as a result, we are not forced to endure the wasted scenes often prevalent in modern movies, wherein we spend 10 minutes of valuable screen time disabling the electronic devices. Is it the 70’s (the cars and TVs)? The 80’s(the phones)? Now (digital dart board in bar)? You don’t know, and that lack of knowledge only enforces the isolation of the characters, while giving us added character development in the story. Seemingly in spite of this tense build, the movie is surprisingly gory, something you wouldn’t expect from a moody piece, ala THE BABADOOK or IT FOLLOWS. Instead, the film finds itself embracing blood and guts throughout the third act as much as it does Lovecraft. In any other film, the blood and gore presented here would be over the top and comical. But WE ARE STILL HERE never once lapses into the ridiculous or comedic, despite how absurd the spraying blood may be.
The cast looks the parts, too. Barbara Crampton, a veteran of HP Lovecraft inspired cinema, plays the wife to veteran character actor Andrew Sensenig, the latter stepping up to the forefront in a lead role. As surprised as I was by his appearance, it ultimately became the keystone that allowed me to bond with the film. Sensenig has that common man appeal, something required for a Lovecraft tale to work. Scream Queen Lisa Marie (THE LORDS OF SALEM) as Crampton’s conveniently psychic friend, and TV veteran Monte Markham, playing a creepy townie, round out the required Lovecraft character archetypes. Markham channels the X-FILES Cigarette Smoking Man for David, a town patriarch who knows more than he is leading on to.
WE ARE STILL HERE will bind to you like a New England winter, holding you in its icy grasp, giving dual meaning to its title. You will wake up one day, tomorrow or six months from now, and you will taste the salt and dirt of its snow and smell the mildew and feel the despair. Yes, WE ARE STILL HERE will remain with you, long after the credits (which you do not want to skip!) close, much in the same manner as Room 237 might disturb a hotel guest or pea soup may make you cringe. Ted Geoghegan’s suspenseful homage to the scares of his youth joins IT FOLLOWS as one of the best examples of horror cinema to be released this year. WE ARE STILL HERE is currently playing in theaters and on VOD.