October Challenge – We Are Still Here
Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here almost like two films stitched together. Luckily for him, and indeed for us his audience, both films are brilliant. Though proceedings begin with a woozy sense of unease, by the time the third act breaks out like a riot, the tension is traded in for utter insanity, leading to one of the most darkly funny, deliriously unhinged payoffs of recent memory.
Above all else, Geoghegan brilliantly draws on the lineage of horror without ever allowing his plot or set-pieces to become parodic. Though he tips his hat to directors like Lucio Fulci, Peter Medak and Abel Ferrara, he never attempts to imitate their style. He has a knowing sense of humour, but he’s not laughing at his influences, or his audience; he’s blending homage with something new and unique, and the payoff is something to behold.
The plot is skinny in the best possible way: a grieving couple move into a house that the locals identify as haunted. It’s stock stuff, but it’s stock stuff in a way that allows Geoghegan to spend more time on characterisation and tone, giving him time to build up to a fever pitched bloodbath that dominates the film’s last twenty minutes. More than that, he ensures that we are genuinely invested in the action; we care about Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig) and spends real time examining the horrific depth and weight of the couple’s grief.
The performances are uniquely brilliant. The ever amazing Barbara Crampton dazzles, as does horror royalty Larry Fessenden in a role that requires him to be first comedic, then horrific, then a woozy combination of the two. Even the smaller roles are filled out with seasoned veterans of the genre: Elissa Dowling turns in a stunning silent performance that is as nuanced as it is genuinely unnerving. Almost any other actress would have turned the role into a one note villain, but with the barest of tools at her disposal, Dowling creates genuine empathy for her character, layering the piece with both horror and heartbreak. It’s stunning work from an actress who has turned in nothing but stunning work.
All in all, We Are Still Here is a testament to the talent of newcomer Geoghegan, and more than that, a testament to what can be achieved when a filmmaker treats his audience with respect. Geoghegan has deep wellsprings of faith when it comes to his viewers: he never speaks down to them, and on that level as on many others, his film is a uniform success.