It’s movies like this one that keep me playing Netflix Roulette. Don’t get me wrong, We Are Still Here is not a perfect horror movie, but somehow the imperfects actually make the film that much more fun to watch. This write-up might be a bit tough. As I was preparing to put my thoughts down on “paper”, I referred back to my notebook to help organize my feelings… there was a single line written all of two minutes into the movie. I’ve commented on this in the past, but there is nearly a perfect negative correlation between how many lines of notes I take and how much I enjoy a film. Therefore, as you can probably guess this movie worked for me from the jump (okay, there’s really nothing here to guess… the first line of my post put my thoughts right up on Front Street).
Before I continue my sycophantic write-up, let’s take a step back and discuss the plot of We Are Still Here. For a movie that begins as a fairly straight-forward haunted house flick there are a number of twists and turns. However, I don’t want to give too much away, so, here’s the general plot: A husband and wife move into a new house after their son dies… the wife feels a presence in the house and thinks it’s her dead son… and (a bit of unexpected) chaos ensues. Like I alluded to earlier, there’s actually quite a bit more going on in the film, but it’s such a fun ride, that it worth going in not knowing more than what I described (which, is literally set up in the first five minutes of the film).
One thing I didn’t mention in my description is that the film is set in the 70s. The filmmaker (writer/direct Ted Geoghegan) clearly took pains to stage things that are era appropriate. Here is perhaps the first minor speed bump in the film. Maybe it’s just the era it came from, but every time I see people dressed in late 70’s style it seems apocryphal. I can’t help but snicker at some of the choices… this is especially true of the two friends who come visit the protagonists later in the movie. Again, this is probably just something unique to me. In this case, though, the filmmaker decided to shoot the movie in the style of a late 70s early 80s horror movie, which helped quite a deal with my reluctance to accept the 70s as a real period of human existence. I’m not sure if this was accomplished by shooting on film, the cameras they used, or some type of after-effect. Either way, it worked. At times, I actually felt like I was watching a lost movie from the 70s
Geoghegan also made several interesting decisions that worked for the film. First, he is not afraid of silence. The opening scene of the movie is shot without anyone talking… it is just the two protagonists getting settled in to their new home. This, combined with the score, creates a general sense of unease which lasts for the majority of the movie. Similarly, there’s not much in the way of jump-scares, but there’s a great deal of things going on in the background of shots (this is one of my favorite techniques, and I generally find it scarier than something jumping out and screaming “boo!”). Second, the movie starts as a rather pedestrian haunted-house movie. I kept thinking to myself “well, they’re not doing anything new or different here, but they sure are doing it right”. This was clearly a deliberate choice by the filmmaker. It lulls the viewer into a false sense of predictability. Third, the casting was spot on. The four people with the most screen-time are in their late 40s and 50s, led by Barbara Crampton (from Re-Animator fame (and a host of other 80s horror movies). In fact, there are almost no young people in the film. It was refreshing to see this for a change. Plus, it allows the characters to do a bit of emotional heavy lifting that would have felt forced coming from a bunch of twenty (or even thirty) somethings. Finally, Geoghegan ends up combining a hodgepodge of styles that have absolutely no right working in tandem, but somehow do. For the first third of the movie, I felt like I was in an art-house horror film and was settling in for a slow-burn. Then elements from b-horror movies started to creep in. Honestly, it feels like the filmmaker took two halves of two different movies and superglued them together… and yet, it works! He somehow combines the shooting techniques of the 70s with CGI effects and yet, it works! Seriously, I have no idea how he did this.
Again, this movie isn’t perfect (for example, there’s a rather clunky scene of exposition about halfway through (though, to be honest, I’m not sure what else the filmmaker could have done (the exposition was needed and helps the viewer through the second half in a way that let me just sit back and enjoy))), but for the most part it’s deftly executed. If you’re looking for a fun and creative ride you really can’t go wrong with We Are Still Here.