Things that go bump in the night have fascinated people since before man discovered fire, and no greater example of that is the ghost story. A home is where one is supposed to feel safe, so when that idyllic notion of the sanctity of home is threatened we the viewer can relate to that fear. If the threat is from outside forces; a marauding biker gang or stalking serial killers that is one thing, we can just marshal our forces and circle the wagons, but if the threat comes from within, from something that “lives” in the home with you, well that is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. They were here before you, and they aren’t interested in leaving.
A middle-aged couple Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton), still mourning the loss of their son Bobby in a car accident, who in the hopes of leaving the pain behind them move into a century-old house in a remote New England town. The house is of course haunted. The basic premise is similar to the fantastic George C. Scott film The Changeling where a man loses his family due to a car accident, moves into a haunted house, and then must solve the mystery behind the angry spirit. Both have a psychic show up to try and contact the dead, but in the case of We Are Still Here writer-director Ted Geoghegan throws a nice wrinkle into the standard ghost story. The ghosts may not be the only thing to be afraid of, darker secrets may reveal the greater threat.
One of the hardest things to get right in this kind of story is justifying why in the hell the occupants don’t flee the second the walls start to bleed and a spooky voices says, “Get out!” In Tobe Hooper’s 1982 film Poltergeist the family’s daughter is stolen by the beings plaguing the house, and in James Wan 2013 The Conjuring it’s just not financially viable to pick up stakes and move, now these are both excellent reasons but I find the one in We Are Still Here much more fascinating, Anne believes the ghost is that of her recently deceased son. Her emotional pain has her trapped like a fly in amber.
The ghosts themselves look great if not all that original, they really resemble the Buckner Family from Cabin in the Woods, but that the first victim is a poor black maintenance man brought in to fix a problem with the heating is I’m betting a nod to the cliché of African Americans life expectancy in horror films. So basically Ted Geoghegan is working in the same self-referential language that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard were using. What is nice is that though horribly burned by the malevolent spirits he actually lives. Not something that can be said for most of the cast of this film.
When one knowingly moves into a home that use to be a mortuary this is the kind of thing you can expect, and when you find out that the mortician and his family were run out of town for selling the bodies instead of burying them, and you are still hanging around, then all further carnage is definitely on your head. What makes this work, and prevents us from madly screaming at these idiots to “Get out!” is in the wonderful performances by Andrew Sensenig and especially horror legend Barbara Crampton. You feel for this couple’s pain and of the fresh start they are trying to make, and what is really amazing is it’s not just us who become sympathetic towards them. The crux of this film is its characters and how they relate to the bizarre mystery behind the town and this cursed house, both reach a very satisfying conclusion.
We Are Still Here is a slow burn of a horror movie, the pace is deliberate yet unrelenting as the tension mounts with the rising death toll, and when the shit finally really hits the fan you will be glad you stuck around to see it.