Tuesday, June 02, 2015

We Are Still Here: The Terror Will Creep and the Blood Will Flow

There is no such thing as cheap real estate in horror films. You might buy at a bargain price today, but you will pay dearly for all eternity. The Sacchettis are about to learn that the hard way. They are moving into their new surprisingly affordable New England farmhouse hoping for a fresh start. Instead they are in for a king-sized serving of supernatural terror in Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Sadly, Anne and Paul Sacchetti’s teenage son Bobby was killed in a car accident—and she clearly is nowhere near over it yet. Nothing in their new environment should remind them of Bobby, but somehow she immediately feels his presence as soon as they move in. Paul Sacchetti is always inclined to be skeptical, but he has to admit the infernal heat emanating from the basement is quite odd. To humor his wife, Mr. Sacchetti agrees to host May and Jacob Lewis, the hippy dippy parents of Bobby’s best friend over the weekend. May Lewis fancies herself a psychic, while her husband boasts the increased sensitivity of someone who has done a lot of mind-altering drugs.

Technically, this will not be their first chance to entertain company in the house. Their nearest neighbors Dave and Cat McCabe will pop over first to explain how their home was once the site of a rather scandalous mortuary and to generally act squirrely and suspicious. Before long, both couples (including Paul) will accept there is something profoundly wrong about the house.

For the sake of full disclosure it should be noting we all know Ted Geoghegan through his work as a film publicist, representing the sort of smart indie genre films we enjoy covering. He is a cool dude, so it is a relief to know we can enthusiastically review Still Here. Happily, he wasn’t about to make the sort of film he wouldn’t want to work on. In fact, he made an eerily atmospheric homage to Lucio Fulci, the Italian Godfather of supernatural gore, who often collaborated with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti.

While there are no radical left turns in Geoghegan’s screenplay, he puts refreshingly inventive spins on just about every haunted house convention, including one of the slyest and most disastrous séances you will see in a month of Black Sabbaths. Geoghegan also notably wrote parts for grown-up adults rather than horny teenagers, which gives the film greater heft and seasoning. It also meant he had meaty roles for his small ensemble of fan favorites, including Barbara Crampton (probably best loved for Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraft films), Larry Fessenden (a presence in just about every Glass Eye Pix), Tim Burton repertory player Lisa Marie, and Monte Markham (whom the MST3K ‘bots constantly confused with Clu Gulager during Master Ninja).

Wow, it really is something to see Crampton playing a mid-fifties mother in WASH. In the 1980s, she was a real scream queen sex symbol for teens fatally obsessed with cult cinema. Nevertheless, her performance as the grieving Anne Sacchetti is honest and true enough to hold up in straight drama without any poltergeists or possessions. She also develops some unusually mature and lived-in chemistry with Andrew Sensenig’s Paul Sacchetti. Of course, Fessenden does his thing, which is often quite funny, but also credibly supplies the destabilizing spark necessary for the film to go completely nuts.

Although WASH might not have a gimmicky hook, the execution is impressively skillful and stylish throughout. The film never outstays its welcome, yet Geoghegan will periodically take a moment, so the audience can appreciate the quiet chilliness of the locale. Highly recommended for horror fans, We Are Still Here screens midnights this weekend (6/5-6/7) in New York, at the Cinema Village.