The Ghosts of Lucio Fulci and H.P. Lovecraft Haunt ‘We Are Still Here’

We Are Still Here mixes modern horror aesthetics and '80s shlock sensibility.

We Are Still Here exists in a weird place. It’s somewhere between atmospheric horror and horror-comedy, in the middle ground between loving homage and original work, and stradles the line between vintage horror revival and modern indie horror cinema. These contradictions may disorient the casual viewer not as familiar with the conventions of ’70s and ’80s cult horror. To the fan who’s seen City of the Living Dead more times than they can count, the initial appearance of We Are Still Here as atmospheric horror gives way to subtle moments of comedy, parodying the elements that made foreign-made schlock so popular. Absurdly timed exposition, characters making poor decisions, monsters that seem to follow no internal logic — it’s all there, but the difference between viewing these as assets to the film or its major flaws is how familiar you are with the films that inspired it.

First time writer-director Ted Geoghegan admits straight-out the influence of Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery, solidifying this by naming many of his characters after characters in that film. Adding to this is the pervasive Lovecraft influence, from the creature design to the story to the setting — yet this influence is never explicitly stated, only hinted at.

This restraint highlights what sets We Are Still Here apart from other movies of its kind: the ability to refrain from winking glances that are typical in movies that pay homage, the kind of moves that sap tension by being so blatant. By avoiding these in-jokes, Geoghegan manages to craft a film that works both as a modern horror film and as a love letter to the kinds of films he grew up with.

The story concerns Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig), an older couple who by chance move into the wrong house after the death of their son Bobby. It just so happens that they choose the only house on the block that has a recurring demand for souls every 30 years. When they arrive, surprise! It’s hungry.

Anne’s insistence that the mysterious forces in the house are the result of Bobby’s spirit falls apart when the incidents become more ghastly, more violent. They call upon their hippie friends May and Jacob (played by Lisa Marie and horror maestro Larry Fessenden, respectively) to work their crystal magic on the house. The mysterious events are made even more mysterious by the history lessons provided by their neighbor Dave (Monte Markham), who arguably gives one of the best performances in the film. Ultimately, the story culminates in chaos, with ample blood and gore drenching the third act.

To reveal more is to go into spoiler territory, and the film is original enough that to do so would weaken its impact. Of course, the haunted house genre is nothing groundbreaking, but subtle changes like the older ages of the main characters give it a surprisingly impactful breath of fresh air. Suffice it to say that the film’s story is, like its gorgeous snowy cinematography, taut and minimal.

What really shines through is the characters, who play their roles without becoming caricatures. They’re at times firmly grounded and feel like real people, only occasionally letting out hints of homages to more absurd Italo-horror characters. A certain scene comes to mind where, after visiting the Sacchettis, Dave proceeds to reveal the house’s dark past only to nonchalantly get up, excuse himself and leave. The whole scene takes up maybe three minutes. What makes it funny, however, is that Geoghegan doesn’t draw attention to it. He doesn’t come out and say “here’s a joke, laugh!” and the film is stronger for his faith in the audience’s ability to see the understated humor.

We Are Still Here is ultimately a rewarding vieweing experience. It has the potential to please both the hardcore horror buff and an open-minded newcomer. It’s not without its faults. Admittedly, the first act is a bit plodding, the end a bit nonsensical, and there are jump scares abound. Well executed jump scares, but jump scares nonetheless. But it’s original, it’s fun, it’s well-acted, it’s beautifully shot, and it’s clearly made from a place of genuine love for a type of horror movie that no longer exists and a type of lore that has been underrepresented in film.

If you’re dissatisfied with modern mainstream horror, try to venture out to the indies where you’ll find films like We Are Still Here. Such films are rarely perfect, but they’re original and made with the kind of admiration for the genre that fills every frame of the movie with energy and excitement.

RATING 7 / 10