Thursday, June 4, 2015

WE ARE STILL HERE Review - Javi's Take

Director: Ted Geoghegan.
Writers: Ted Geoghegan, concept by Richard Griffin.
Actors: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, Larry Fessenden, and Monte Markham.
Synopsis: A grieving couple moves into a house with a bloody past.

Edit: Per director Ted Geoghegan's tweet found here, it appears that my assessment that there was CGI blood being used in the movie was incorrect and it was all a practical effect. 

It seems that out of any genre out there, horror is filled with remakes. While most of the remakes just take the core concept and shift up the setting 20-30 years and add "Facebook" references, there are good ones that take a look at the themes and allegory of the original and reinterpret them for a modern era (see: THE CRAZIES).

Personally, the whole point of remakes is to take a good idea that was limited by technology or budget, or even genre tropes, and somehow expand the ideas and improve upon them. Director Ted Geohagen's WE ARE STILL HERE feels like the remake of a movie that never existed. It is both a throwback to old haunted house movies but also manages to throw away conventional horror movie beats and makes the movie feel fresh and new.

WE ARE STILL HERE stars Andrew Sensenig and Barbara Crampton as Paul and Anne Sacchetti. As the movie opens, the Sacchetti's are still reeling from the shock of their only son's death due to a car crash. They decide to leave the big city behind for a quieter life out in the country, and before the title card even drops, you know the house the Sacchettis picked as their new home is not quite what it seems.

After the Sachhettis get settled in to the house, things start going wrong. There are objects moving and the couple start having violent visions. Something down in the suspiciously hot basement burned the electrician. And their neighbors are shady and don't want to stay inside their house very long given its gory history. The house is the site of grizzly murders committed there by the first owners of the house, the Dagmars in the 1850's. Anne seems to think that her son might be trying to communicate with them, but when the spirits start turning violent, they find out there's an even more disturbing history to the house and the town.

One of the strengths of the movie is the chemistry between the leads. Sensenig was captivating as the Sampler in UPSTREAM COLOR, and Barbara Crampton is perfect in every way possible, but together they have the rapport and the comfort of an actual married couple. When Paul starts seeing visions and getting freaked out, it's obvious, by Anne's reaction, even admitting that the supernatural is real is out of the ordinary for him. They are also multiple instances where they just finish each other's sentences. This chemistry gives us huge stakes regarding the fate of the characters especially when the blood and guts start spilling.

From the horror aspect, WE ARE STILL HERE is an effective amalgamation of different sub-genres. While the movie starts off as a haunted house movie, it turns into a "society" movie where a whole town is in on a terrible secret and is conspiring against the protagonists, and then finally into a home invasion movie. The way which all of these different aspects are integrated is seamless and shows an understanding of horror movies.

What makes this movie stand out is the way that it wears its influences on its sleeve, but it doesn't let them get in the way of an interesting story. The filmmakers seemed to know modern audiences don't care for the older style of pacing and adding suspense. One of the most annoying aspects of older movies is how no one believes a protagonists when they say there's a monsters/ghost/creature and how long it takes for people to finally get on board. The time between them figuring out the house is haunted and others believing them is pretty quick, which is awesome.

The creature's designs are insanely scary and have a great presence about them. The weak spot of the movie has mostly to do with the visual effects. The quality of the CGI makes the monsters look a bit cartoony, and the gratuitous use of CGI blood doesn't help. While there might have been budgetary reasons for foregoing practical effects, it's still a shame. Thankfully, these moments are few and far in between.

One of the best parts about the film is how the majority of the movie is shot beautifully with lots of day-time and outdoor shots that are somehow creepier than the inside of a dark house. There's something about a remote but snowed-covered location that brings a certain sense of dread that's permeates through the whole movie.

2015 has been a great year for horror already, and WE ARE STILL HERE can be counted among the best of the year so far. The movie is anchored on the two leads' strong performances and some genuinely touching and scary moments.

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