Wednesday, August 10, 2016

We Are Still Here (2015)

Emotionally reeling from the accidental death of their grown-up son, Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig) decide moving out of the house he grew up in might assist them on their way to closure. Turns out, moving to Aylesbury, Mass., situated right in Lovecraft Country might not have been the best idea to that end, for there’s something very wrong with the house they move to.

There’s a reason the place had been left uninhabited for thirty years. Particularly Anne finds herself confronted with various low key haunting effects that suggest the presence of the spirit of their son, but surely, actual ghosts don’t move to new homes with people. There’s also something deeply wrong with the house’s cellar that manifests itself in unseasonable heat, the smell of burning flesh, and – if you’re an unlucky electrician – the crispy-hot living dead.

After some time of weirdness, Anne convinces the more sceptical Paul, who still can’t quite wave away what’s going on, it might be a good idea to call a couple of friends of hers for help. May (Lisa Marie) and her hippie husband Jacob (the inevitable yet lovely Larry Fessenden) do have a talent for contacting the spirit world, it turns out, but there’s something worse in the house than just a few – already pretty damn bad, it’ll turn out – ghosts.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably already have read various bits and pieces about Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here emphasising how much of the film is a loving homage to Lucio Fulci. That’s absolutely true, too, but if you expect a film that feels or is meant to feel like a Fulci flick from his great period, you’ll probably end up confused or disappointed, for Geoghegan uses certain markers of Fulci’s aesthetic in a way often antithetical to the old maestro’s approach. I rather think that’s a good thing, too, for what would be the point in making a film that’s only aping a gone great?

But let’s start on the obviously Fulci-esque elements: the film’s colour-scheme, the characters’ wardrobes and the production design are very much taken from Fulci’s playbook, as are the nods towards Lovecraft (bonus points to Geoghegan for using Aylesbury instead of a more obvious place). And there’s really no doubt in which direction the scene with the electrician in the cellar nods; even though what happens to him is rather different to the doom of a certain Fulci workman in a Southern cellar.

However, no Fulci film – from whichever career phase – would ever have featured as naturalistically drawn characters as the Sacchetti’s (speaking of nods…), actual people with actually believable interiority who mostly do things that make sense, even when these acts are ill-advised. Crampton and Sensenig are rather wonderful as the Sacchettis too, selling much of the sadness and loss, as well as their long intimacy with gestures, posture and looks, without them or the script feeling the need to oversell it and drift into a more melodramatic direction.

Geoghegan’s script does in general – except for one bar scene involving Monte Markham telling the local bar owner stuff she already knows quite well for no good reason apart from clueing the audience in – tend to find the sweet spot between showing and telling and seems to trust in the audience not to need every little thing spelled out for them. Of course, this generally logical and humanly believable approach is pretty much the exact opposite to Fulci’s (and Sacchetti’s) love for slow, dream-like series of strange occurrences vaguely drawn characters just stumble through. I do think it works very well for We Are Still Here, mind you.

Keeping with the Fulci, even the way the film uses gore, once it arrives for the final act, is very different from the maestro’s, replacing the slow lingering on the bizarre and gloopy with relatively quick edits. Though it still is rather bizarre and gloopy.

All in all, Geoghegan uses elements of Fulci’s filmmaking to turn out a more conventionally accomplished movie, losing the dream-like, weird and just plain crazy mood in favour of being an effective, clever, and well-acted low budget horror film. I certainly won’t blame a film for being that.

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