Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: We Are Still Here (2015)
I had no idea what to expect going into this one, other than hearing some vague things about it being pretty good. I’m glad I came in fresh this time. I usually at least have a vague idea of what I’m getting into but it’s nice to have no preconceived notions of any kind once in a while. I had also heard Barbara Crampton was in it, which was a plus as I’ve been a fan since growing up with Re-Animator and From Beyond, and seeing her more recently in Beyond the Gates.
So, I’m gonna admit right out of the gate that I didn’t pick up on this being a period piece at all when I watched it the first time. Once I found that out, it made sense when I was scanning back over some scenes. I either missed a year tag or just how period specific all the cars and clothes were. Although, in my defense, a lot of what was popular in the late 1970s in those realms is still popular or popular again.
The story begins with a couple—Crampton as ‘Anne’ and ‘Paul’ played by Andrew Sensenig—driving back to their new home in rural New England, Anne depressed, and both grieving. They’ve moved to a house near a small town to escape the city where their son died in a car accident.
They start fixing up the house and Anne experiences some strange, spooky things in the basement, causing her to believe that her son’s spirit has followed them to this new home.
They call in a handyman and he’s attacked by what look like burning evil spirit people.
A couple just pops in to tell them that they’re now living in a house that was inhabited by a family that was terrible and run out of town and such.
Anne invites her hippy-dippy friends, May and Jacob (Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden), up to see if they can make contact with her son. That couple arrives and they go into town for some food. The local watering/feeding hole is less than welcoming.
May and Jacob’s son and his girlfriend arrive at the spooky house—while his parents and the rest are all at their uncomfortable dinner in town—and that goes really badly for them, as the burning evil spirits mistake the actor playing the son (Michael Patrick Nicholson) for a young Vincent Gallo (and they’re still mad about Brown Bunny;…Let’s not think about the layered paradox that would represent and let me have my bad joke(I know, he doesn’t even look that much like him…but still)). Then Daniella the girlfriend (Kelsea Dakota) escapes in the ever-so-1970s factory muscle car they came in—but gets murderized by an evil spirit that appears in the backseat, which send the car careening off the road, guaranteeing her boyfriend’s parents won’t know they’ve come and…gone.
The parents all come back from town, of course finding no evidence of Harry and Daniella’s short visit, and call it a night. Back at the local watering hole, the husband of the couple who visited early on, Dave McCabe (Monte Markham) fucking kills a waitress who answers his knock with no hesitation, then revealing the more nefarious conspiratorial setup the townspeople have lived with for many decades in a totally-not-to-catch-the-audience-up-to-speed conversation with the watering hole owner (who’s also in on it).
That night, a couple of parents back at the house have bad dreams where the spirits visit them. These visitations lead to an impromptu séance the next morning, that sets up the follow-through into the third act—where this film really comes together for me.
Yaaaay, review time.
I think it would be unfair to describe this film as a slow burn that builds up to crazy shit…but that’s not inaccurate. Why unfair? Because it’s still really enjoyable as it builds up too. Not that films like that aren’t usually. I guess I’m just trying to say that I would’ve been happy with a medium strength follow-through after the quality, deliberately paced build.
Yeah, this one goes fucking ape shit.
(I’m sorry if you don’t like bad language…but, if you’re here, you probably make a habit of watching films where human beings get horribly violated and killed for entertainment (as do I)…so…you can handle it, y’all)
So yeah, fuck yeah this one builds to a HolyFuckingShit third act.
The beginning and middle set everything up and get you caring about or fearing the characters, then the last chunk just goes off.
But as much as that really made the whole thing work for me, the early and middle sections were really well done too. The snowy setting immediately communicated isolation and a certain kind of haunting feel, just from aesthetic and deceptively staid camerawork and editing alone. Then after that, I knew I was probably going to be into this one when Crampton’s character was in the basement cleaning up and the dread was real and earned. And yeah, basically any time a character went into the basement after that, it went really, really bad for them.
The (honestly trying to spoil less, even if it’s always been deliberate and for the funsies) ‘evil spirits’ are also really well done. Their whole look is based on their backstory, which I was prepared to be disappointed by—but they are used really well and spooky looking too.
Is it perfect? No.
It feels like it had a pretty low budget but it all went to the right things. The actors all work well overall, especially Crampton, Fessenden, and Sensenig (Lisa Marie does well, but has a scenery-chewing role from the nature of it)—and let’s not forget Markham as McCabe. He’s fantastic. It just feels like the budget was used well, but other than special effects and casting and general creativity of the shooting crew and director, this one just had a low budget, shot-on-high-def-video feel. Absolutely nothing wrong with that and I could be wrong, but even to this day post-treated high def has a certain feel to it for me, even as far as it’s come.
I feel the same about one of my all-time favorite films, Session 9. Great cast and crew and creative minimal-but-effective uses of spooky sets and such (but We Are Still Here is definitely the gorier, movie-party-pleaser of the two) but just the look and feel of the medium lessens it a little. And that’s why I love films like Session 9 and this so much—the creativity and talent had to shine through the less-than-luscious-looking moving images. Also, high def can do more with low and natural light from what I’ve seen, so that’s in its favor.
All that said, I really enjoyed this one. I hate a film that builds slowly and has no payoff. I am all about a careful, measured build that has big payoff.
WHAT I LIKED:
- Main actors
- 1970s setting (even if I didn’t catch it first watch) because I love those cars and (some of those) clothes and hairstyles
- Gory nastiness is well done all around
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
- High def video look and feel of it, but this isn’t a strike against it as a creative work as I explain above; just an observation and my honest reaction to that look
- It’s also probably budget related, but a few of the extras/line-or-two actors weren’t amazing. The first kill of the last act bloodbath is so telegraphed it’s laughable. It doesn’t feel deliberate but being a lover of low budget horror, this added to the fun. I know this sounds like a ‘like’…but it is stilted, and the kind of thing that can turn off horror casuals and eager newcomers
This film was really enjoyable and satisfying for me. I don’t usually get too cute with the point system I use…but this one goes up toward Solid Big Radness, but I’m gonna keep it just a touch under the 8-10 range.
I’ll give We Are Still Here______7.9/10.
PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife, young daughter, and a cat so black he seems to absorb light. Patrick’s stories have appeared in anthologies and periodicals published by April Moon Books, Shadow Work Publishing, EyeCue Productions, Bold Venture Press, Sirens Call Publications, Indie Authors Press, PHANTAXIS, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick’s first novel, A Tear in the Veil, was published in June of 2017 by April Moon Books. His first short story collection (including its titular novella) TOO MANY EYES and Other Thrilling Strange Tales is forthcoming.
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