New England ghost stories have a distinct feel to them, like they’re 30 degrees cooler than tales told around campfires in the rest of the country. The weight of history has a lot to do with it along with the fact that New England falls and winters look like no other. The atmosphere is chillier and the branches are more jagged, making it the perfect backdrop for Ted Geoghegan’s feature directorial debut We Are Still Here.
Following the tragic death of their teenage son Bobby, grieving couple Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) move to a secluded home in the quiet New England countryside. Paul is fervent about starting over, but Anne is having difficulties letting go of her son. She laments for him over old photos and sees shadows of him everywhere. The house’s darkness begin to close in on the couple. Desperate to learn the secrets of her new home, Anne asks her physic friend May (Lisa Marie) and her husband Jacob (Larry Fessenden) to visit and see what readings she picks up. Are the disturbances in the house the spirit of Bobby following his parents or something more sinister?
We Are Still Here is a masterfully crafted slow creeper that knows when to ratchet up the tension and release. There are traditional jump scares here and there, but more heavily the horror relies on thick atmosphere and the unknown of what’s at the bottom of the basement steps. Towards the end, Geoghegan revs the terror up for a vigorous final act that leaves the wooden walls dripping red. These quiet moments of dread are very palpable, the only problem is that when the spirits (there are glimpses of them in the trailer) show themselves, they visually aren’t all that interesting. The effect they have on people is real nasty but they just don’t look very gripping and have a dull CGI gloss to them. As far as plot goes, there’s really only a thin trace of one here. The house is evil, Paul and Anne are grieving, and that’s really it. Having something more tangible at its core would’ve accented We Are What We Are‘s horror a great deal.
The final 10 minutes are chaos, in a good way. Geoghegan lets loose and delivers a satisfying and chilling climax while balancing the gore and tension nicely. It comes close to going off the rails, but as I mentioned earlier, the director knows when to pull back. The awesome set pieces just come one after another.
Crampton and Sensenig make for a believable couple. They’re both wounded and dealing with it in different ways. The compassion between them is there but it’s been severely crippled and sometimes it’s heartbreaking to watch Anne refuse to let go and move on. Crampton’s been wise in her genre revival roles the past few years (You’re Next, Lords of Salem) and with We Are Still Here the seasoned actress excels. As always, Larry Fessenden delivers a rock solid performance with finely tuned comedic beats. He gets to have a lot of fun later in the film, but you’ll just have to see that for yourself.
After amassing heaps of writing and producing credits, Geoghegan delivers a solid directorial debut with We Are Still Here. Ripe with tension and ghostly atmosphere, it’s one of the big horror flicks to look for coming out of SXSW this year.