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We Are Still Here [SXSW 2015]
Dark Sky Films // Unrated // March 15, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Haunted houses are certainly considered to be one of the biggest sub-genres that horror has to offer. There have been some terrifying stories told within the confines of old houses, dating back decades. Writer/director Ted Geoghegan has a clear fascination with the style associated with genre flicks in the 1970s and 1980s, as shown in his throwback title We Are Still Here. Making its premiere at SXSW Film Festival 2015, it had the potential to be one of this year's great horror gems. Unfortunately, its half-hearted dependency on its nostalgic factor hinders it from truly making an impact.
After their son died in a car crash, Anne Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton) and Paul Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig) move to a quiet New England countryside in order to start anew. Little did they know, they have moved into a lonely old house that wakes up every thirty years, and demands a sacrifice. If they wish to find a way out, they must escape both the vengeful spirits in the house, and a town full of terrified citizens with a dark secret.
We Are Still Here wastes no time in getting started. Within the film's first fifteen minutes, Anne feels a presence in the house, but believes that it's the spirit of their deceased son. This incredibly quick revelation is unusual for these films, providing a slight twist that makes the first act feel both fresh and nostalgic at the same time. Geoghegan gets off to an impressive start that establishes an eerie tone that is extremely successful. However, it doesn't take long for the film to put itself on a slope that has nowhere to go, but down. Friends May Lewis (Lisa Marie) and Jacob Lewis (Larry Fessenden) are invited to check out the house, since they happen to be supernatural specialists. Oddly enough, this is where the film comes to a screeching halt that instantly destroys all of the tension that was recently established for a tacky sub-plot that feels out of place. Almost the entire second act is composed of waiting for May and Jacob's son and his girlfriend to arrive. An 84 minute film really doesn't have this time to waste, but it does so without any hesitation.
Horror films aren't known for providing well-crafted characters that we care for, but We Are Still Here has the clear intention of delivering thrills and chills. Unfortunately, there isn't a single scary or interesting thing to speak of in regards to the second act. Instead of becoming a slow-burn to an insane finale, there is absolutely no escalation of tension. In fact, it remains rather flat through the majority of the running time. The occasional jump scare simply doesn't fit the throwback vibe that it's attempting to accomplish, as it rarely strives for anything more than generic talk of the supernatural. Geoghegan's screenplay has more interest in the small town's citizens than it does the house that should have been the center of the story. It's a messy film that fails to focus on its greatest strengths.
While a large portion of the film feels wasted, the final act is taken full advantage of. Featuring an insanely large bloodbath, We Are Still Here finally focuses on the house. It isn't a necessarily scary conclusion, but it's thrilling and entertaining in every way. Horror audiences will be sure to be going wild for this ridiculously over-the-top finale. All of the small elements introduced within the first act return in a way that is deliciously gruesome. It's just a shame that there isn't much building to this point, as it just suddenly escalates to the insanity found within the last twenty minutes. The house has the power to commit extreme brutality, and We Are Still Here has successfully created the location that would carry out this violence.
Geoghegan has written a few films before, but this marks his directorial debut. Surprisingly, he displays greater potential in the director's seat than he does formulating a screenplay. Once inside the house, the entire mood of the film changes. Featuring a color palette of yellows and browns, Geoghegan transforms this old house into a truly unnerving environment. The spirits that haunt the residence remain in the darkness for the majority of the film, but they certainly leave an impression. There are several nightmarish setups that have quite the impact. We Are Still Here thrives in its few subtleties, but not the jump scares that Geoghegan repeatedly forces into the film's visual design.
There are some truly haunting moments to be had in this house, but Ted Geoghegan's directorial debut struggles due to his own screenplay. His respect for haunted house flicks of the 1970s and 1980s is clear, but the film's inability to maintain the tension established in its first act is ultimately the feature's downfall. Some of his tweaks to the nostalgic sub-genre work, while others are counterintuitive. The final act delivers upon the craziness that horror fans will be craving, but it isn't enough to justify such a clunky second act that completely abandons what could have been a terrifying story. We Are Still Here is nostalgic horror that aspires for greatness, but ultimately falls flat. Rent it.
We Are Still Here played at SXSW Film Festival 2015 on March 15th, March 16th, and March 19th.