We’ve not been short on great horror movies that have doubled as love letters recently. From Adam Wingard’s You’re Next and The Guest to David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, there have been some wonderful films that danced back and forth over the line between homage and pastiche. Ted Geoghegan’s debut We Are Still Here pays loving tribute to the films of Lucio Fulci, but it’s as fond of its characters as it is of its influences.
Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig play Anne and Paul Sachetti, who move to a remote house in the countryside after losing their teenage son Bobby. When Anne begins to suspect that their boy’s spirit might still be with them, they invite their spiritualist friends May (Lisa Marie) and Jacob (Larry Fessenden) to visit and to see if they can make contact. However, there are much older ghosts than Bobby living in the old Dagmar place.
We Are Still Here has a similar wintry feel and knowingly nostalgic sensibility to Ti West’s brilliant The House Of The Devil, but Geoghegan’s film is a lot more accessible. He’s not shy about letting the audience in on the gags early, and it’s really impressive how the film manages to combine laughs and chills at the same time. When town leader Dave McCabe (Monte Markham) stops by early on to tell the Sachettis the sordid history of the new house, it’s both hilarious as Dave wastes no time in getting straight to the point (and then leaving), but we care enough about Anne and Paul to be worried for them. His parting barb, that “It’s still the Dagmars’ house,” is decidedly unnerving.
Crampton and Sensenig both deliver excellent performances as the couple struggling to put a brave face on things, with one more open to the idea of the supernatural than the other. The human element is bolstered by strong turns from Marie and Fessenden as the pair of hippies who come to stay and immediately realise that something’s off. They form a warm, funny, likeable central quartet give the film its heart, and it’s nice to see a character acknowledge the silliness of an entire bar going quiet upon their entrance with a sly grin.
Geoghegan doesn’t skimp on the scares, however. The ghosts of the Dagmars are angry and when they lash out, it’s shocking and violent. The design (based, as the filmmaker said at the FrightFest screening, on the ghosts in John Carpenter’s The Fog) is very striking, with their scorched skin, white eyes and blackened hair. The practical effects are excellent across the board, in fact, with one sequence involving a sock a wonderful “how the hell did they do that?” moment. When the gore arrives, it’s certainly impressive.
If we have one criticism, it’s that the film is a little too keen to lay it all out there for viewers, but it’s a very minor quibble, especially as Markham is so good (Susan Gibney and Connie Neer deserve a mention for their performances as the capable town bartender and Dave’s subdued wife, respectively).
Both an effective tribute to genre giants (HP Lovecraft and MR James get a few nods) and genuinely effective horror in its own right, We Are Still Here is an atmospheric, funny, surprisingly warm-hearted and frequently damn scary blend of self-aware nostalgia and sincere chills. We highly recommend this very impressive debut.
We Are Still Here is released on DVD on 19 October. This review comes from the screening of the film at Film4 FrightFest. Keep up with the latest horror news with the new issue of SciFiNow.