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SXSW Film Review: ‘We Are Still Here’

A haunted house claims 'fresh souls' every 30 years in Ted Geoghegan's vintage horror homage.

Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden, Lisa Marie, Monte Markham, Susan Gibney, Michael Patrick, Kelsea Dakota, Guy Gane III, Elissa Dowling, Zorah Burress, Marvin Patterson, Connie Neer, Samantha Buckman.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3520418/

“We Are Still Here” makes a concerted effort to mimic the style of certain 70s/early ’80s supernatural thrillers — Lucio Fulci’s “The House by the Cemetery” (1981) is one clear model here, with its slightly “off” foreigner’s vision of American life and crude yet effective ghoul in the basement. Ted Geoghegan’s feature directing debut somewhat awkwardly straddles straight-up horror and tongue-in-cheek homage, its humor seldom foregrounded yet still sufficiently omnipresent to somewhat undermine the scares. Still, genre fans with a sense of history should make this entertaining chiller a sought-after item for midnight slots, and a welcome pickup for specialty home-format distribbers.

A rare horror exercise whose characters are nearly all well into middle age, “We Are Still Here” introduces the Sacchettis as they drive toward their new home in upstate New York in the dead of winter. Both are grieving the recent loss of their only child, Bobby, in a car accident, but hope the move will provide some distance from that tragedy for Anne (Barbara Crampton, “Re-Animator”) in particular, who’s clearly suffering from major depression. To the dismay of her husband, Paul (Andrew Sensenig), however, she immediately claims to feel Bobby’s “presence” in their new digs.

Offering another possible explanation for that perception of restless spirits are their neighbors Dave (Monte Markham) and Cat (Connie Neer), who drop by to introduce themselves one night. Before abruptly departing, Dave spills lore about the very old house’s earliest days, when it was operated as a funeral home by a family that met a tragic end at the hands of angry townspeople. Hinting at dark incidents that have plagued occupants ever since, Dave smirks, “It’s been 30 years since we’ve had fresh souls in this house.” Needless to say, it eventually emerges that the house requires fresh souls to consume every, oh, 30 years or so.

At first, only Anne notices poltergeist-type disturbances around the ramshackle 110-year-old structure, but even Dave can’t deny the pervasive smoky smell or inexplicably high temperatures in the creepy cellar. The latter complaints bring a visit by an electrician (Marvin Patterson) whose unnoticed demise is the first and scariest here. Showing up soon afterward to offer the Sacchettis moral support are Jacob (Larry Fessenden) and May (Lisa Marie), aging hippies who are a bit left-field for Paul’s taste. But while Paul rolls eyes at Jacob’s unreconstructed stonerdom, Anne wants to tap May’s alleged psychic abilities to figure out just what is going on in the house.

The swiftly paced pic introduces more cannon fodder in the form of Jacob and May’s college-age son (Michael Patrick) and his g.f. (Kelsea Dakota), as well as various townies who prove menacingly invested in these newcomers staying put. Pretty soon, the “hungry darkness” that wakes up every three decades in this abode is having a human smorgasbord.

Crampton’s ever-fretful Anne aside, the performances here often have an exaggerated comedic tinge that’s not quite parodic but still creates some distance between the viewer and the spooky atmosphere. Likewise, the lumbering ghouls are a bit too hokey to be taken seriously as objects of terror. But they fit into a general thematic and design scheme that faithfully echoes a seminal era’s often garish horror conventions, particularly in Karim Hussain’s widescreen lensing and Wojciech Golczewski’s original score. Even the occasional gaps in narrative and character logic make sense in the context of homage — particularly to Fulci, but also to such cultish U.S. indie horror films of the era as “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death.” Of course, viewers with a shallower genre viewing history to draw on will simply fault “We Are Still Here” as being corny and careless.

SXSW Film Review: 'We Are Still Here'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Midnighters), March 16, 2015. Running time: 84 MIN.

Production: A Snowfort Pictures and Dark Sky Films presentation. Produced by Travis Stevens. Executive producers, Malik B. Ali, Badi Ali, Hamza Ali, Greg Newman. Co-producer, Eben Kostbar.

Crew: Directed, written by Ted Geoghegan, from an idea by Richard Griffin. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Karim Hussain; editors, Aaron Crozier, Josh Ethier; music, Wojciech Golczewski; production designer, Marcella Brennan; costume designer, John Houston; art director, Sean Hughes; FX, Oddtopsy FX; VFX, Eli Dorsey; sound, Mano Guha; supervising sound editors, Tom Boykin, Eric Lalicata; re-recording mixer, Boykin; assistant director, Michael Pinckney.

With: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden, Lisa Marie, Monte Markham, Susan Gibney, Michael Patrick, Kelsea Dakota, Guy Gane III, Elissa Dowling, Zorah Burress, Marvin Patterson, Connie Neer, Samantha Buckman.

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