We Are Still Here (2015)

06/20/2015  By  Sean Hanson     Comments Off

At the end of Gerald’s Game, arguably the worst Stephen King novel, there’s a small volume of half-convincing epistolary miscellany that explains portions of the plot King couldn’t weave — or hammer — into the novel proper. We Are Still Here suffers from the same flaw, its end credits set against fake newspapers that are supposed to immerse us further in the story, even though they’re a little too smooth and shiny to be as old as they purport. It’s a fitting conclusion for a film that, like Gerald’s Game, contains just enough flashes of brilliance to make us wish it were better than it actually is.

We Are Still Here hits the ground running, as haunted-house flicks go: minutes after Anne Sachetti (Barbara Crampton) and her husband Paul (Andrew Sensenig) pull into the driveway of their new home, silhouettes emerge from shadows and baseballs roll down staircases, propelled by some unseen force. Cryptic neighbors offer ominous warnings. Their electrician is gravely injured while investigating why their basement never drops below 100 degrees. Anne speaks, elliptically, of their dead son and wonders if he’s trying to contact them. Paul, per formula, has his doubts. Nonetheless, they call two hippie friends well-versed in the art of the séance (Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden) as well as two acquaintances of their son to … well, on that point, I’m not quite sure. All of this happens in the first act.

Where ghost stories are concerned, I generally prefer the slow burn to the slam-bang, waiting being the key ingredient of dread and all. Nonetheless, I appreciate writer/director Ted Geoghegan’s approach. Geoghegan, working from a “concept” by Richard Griffin (as opposed to an idea or a story or a Hasbro game, I guess), wants so desperately for his film to surprise us, he can’t afford to give us time to guess where it’s headed. The gambit pays off: whatever its flaws, We Are Still Here is neither predictable nor a self-conscious critique of that which came before. Instead, it’s a frantic 84-minute tour of horror tropes and subgenres that are rarely connected in the span of a short feature film. It’s appropriate, then, that cinematographer Karim Hussain should eschew the haunted-house genre’s elegant controlled camerawork for handheld closeups. In doing so, Hussain’s camera becomes the presence itself, dancing around the characters as they move through the house.

A reminder that LASIK still has its risks.

Unfortunately, there’s an odd disconnect: the team behind the camera is working so hard to keep us off-guard and hold our attention through clever shot choices and pacing strategies, but their on-screen counterparts just don’t seem up to the task. Crampton and Fessenden, both minor celebrities among horror geeks who took small roles in 2011’s meta-horror masterpiece You’re Next, are the only actors on hand who are able to fashion three-dimensional characters from Geoghegan’s mediocre dialogue and hazy motivations. Crampton, with her steely-eyed aloofness, at least has a good grasp on what a grieving mother looks and sounds like, and Fessenden, who usually shows up in these films from time to time in the spirit of indie camaraderie, finally gets the acting opportunity of his career thanks to a left-field plot development. To varying degrees, everyone else chokes on the words, peeling back the curtain so we can see the clunky screenplay underneath. Marie is particularly miscast, as it’s hard to see the connection between psychic hippies and collagen injections, but Sensenig is wholly unmemorable in his leading role, mimicking the skeptical, assholish horror dad from countless other horror flicks.

Working against such major obstacles, including the pedestrian trappings of his own screenplay, it’s remarkable that Geoghegan achieves as much as he does. I have a hard time recommending We Are Still Here — it’s not exactly a classic waiting to be hoisted from the pile of cheap VOD horror flicks — but I have an equally hard time recommending against it. It’s a risky film that balances glaring weaknesses against casual strengths, but it’s rarely boring or predictable. Put another way, I could not have anticipated the tone of this film’s climax, even after years of haunted-house flicks that more or less begin with the same loose premise. I guess it’s up to you if the element of surprise is enough to make a film worth watching.

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