It seems harder than ever to find a good horror movie. To clarify, not a horror movie that’s just scary (no doubt that’s a factor), but a horror movie that is made with some quality and care. Classic horror movies like The Fly, Halloween and The Shining focused as much on storytelling, atmosphere, and generally memorable characters as they did on making nightmares. Current horror movies like Anabelle, As Above So Below, The Conjuring, Unfriended and the recent Insidious sequel focused more on jump scares and grotesque imagery than on a generally interesting movie. However, some independent films are looking to the past for inspiration. Last year’s The Babadook had the aura of classic Tim Burton, while this March’s It Follows owed much of its style and mood to John Carpenter. Now, writer/director Ted Geoghegan has made the best horror movie Wes Craven never made.
We Are Still Here follows Anne and Paul Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig), a married couple who have just moved to a small, snow-covered New England town in 1979 after their son died in a car crash. The couple move into a secluded old home, hoping to ease the pain of losing their son. Anne keeps hearing creaks in the house, and something smells like smoke in the basement. According to Anne and Paul’s new neighbor, Dave (Monte Markham), the house was home to a family that was run out of town for selling corpses. When the smoke stench becomes more potent and the rustle in the basement becomes more noticeable, the Sacchettis invite their friends, Jacob and May Lewis (Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie), to help them sort out their spirits. Little do they know that the town itself really wants Anne and Paul to stay at the house after all….the house needs a family.
Director Geoghegan, along with co-writer Richard Griffin, have made the first horror movie in quite some time that could be legitimately called “spooky.” It is a haunted house tale that is supposedly inspired by The House by the Cemetery but has much more in common with Wes Craven and 1970s horror. The frame and cinematography of the movie occasionally shows spots like that of a film reel, and the style of horror takes its time to build fear instead of getting right to the ghosts. The creeping score adds tension, but doesn’t overtake the scenes. Geoghegan lets the quiet moments of the movie build tension and fear, occasionally using jump scares that are few and more effective. He uses the old house as a tool, with the old creaking doors and barren basement almost swallowing the fragile couple whole. The couple themselves, especially Barbara Crampton’s Anne, show a great amount of dread but never go over the top. Monte Markham provides some joy for the viewer as the creepy old man of the town. Admittedly, the actual reveal of the ghosts at the end of the film shows the film’s low budget, but the quick gore-fest thrown in makes up for it.
Bottom line, the movie sticks with its spooky atmosphere and brings everything back to the couple trying to hold on to the ghost of their son, even while they’re being haunted by other darker spirits. It has a beating heart inside, with a story about letting go of the things one holds dear disguised as a ghost story. A horror movie with heart definitely has a nice ring to it. We Are Still Here is equally a great scary story and a great movie in general, showing how sometimes one has to go back to the drawing board to find out what really scares people.