Review: We Are Still Here is Gory New England Folk Horror

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We tend to hone in on Fulci’s nuttiness, of which there is no shortage. The final moments of The Beyond, the lunch pit stop in City of the Living Dead, the entire Dr. Freudstein mythology. In many of the Italian horror master’s films however, there is a headiness (most especially Cat in the Brain), and maybe even something more somber and otherworldly. His visions of horror were splatter soaked yes, but also startlingly different, deliberate ones; even the anticipatory dread of the body bag rising in Zombi one of the most powerful images in undead cinema. Now what if his New England scary stories were more balanced, spookier affairs? First time feature filmmaker Ted Geoghegan seems to have wondered such, crafting a different sort of ghost, building an odd sort of atmosphere and reaching for that supernatural, yet truly physical and visceral violence of Fulci in 70s era New England horror story, We Are Still Here

Less inspired by the grainy exploitation that popularizes nostalgia for 70s filmmaking, Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here harkens to the more detail oriented, the production designed, with faded color straddling the 70s era and early 20th century. It’s a film about sadness and unease, a third horror story at SXSW directly confronting the all-consuming nature of grief and thankfully just as different to The Invitation and Final Girls as they are to each other. It’s actually maybe somewhere in the middle, unafraid to address the struggling, somber nature of a married life after losing one’s child (as portrayed by beloved performer and genre star Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) and yet very pleased to explode into massacre when needed.

Anne and Paul are doing their best to move forward, purchasing a secluded New England home and starting over following the death of their son. The house is a bit odd though. There’s an undeniable presence there, refreshingly not marked by accustomed ghostly misdirects, but more the appearance of energy bubbling. And boiling, as the basement is a smoky, terribly hot section of the old home that keeps the fiery spirits of a family long dead, but decidedly not ethereal. The Dagmars—as we come to call them—are a tactile, charred presence and the three will not hesitate to thrust their scorching hands into, through, around the ensemble’s bodies. Then tearing off when they deem fit.

Though the Dagmars as a fiery murderous ghost family are indeed expanded upon verbally, We Are Still Here is yet another SXSW horror film interested in visually imparting its disquieting nature. The film is confidently strange, as Geoghegan and editors Aaron Crozier and Josh Ethier hold on not only the eeriest situations but the most uncomfortable, impressively drudging up the aura of not quite knowing how to be. Crampton and Sensenig are of course integral to such, embodying their grief-stricken couple with heavy chests but the drive to try; hard to do when the town you’ve moved to sports such strange characters as patriarch Dave McCabe and every patron at the bar. Monte Markham plays McCabe as a watchful presence, one all too delighted to report the new home’s tumultuous past in tragic, largely inappropriate detail.

Similarly, cinematographer and filmmaker Karim Hussain (Hobo With A Shotgun) helps highlight the isolating nature of this new town with beautiful, melancholy looks at surrounding winter. Anne and Paul unwittingly enter this folky Harvest Home/Lovecraftian scenario and it helps to feel trapped by the unknowable qualities of these oddball specters and kooky neighbors. The film’s disinterest in being “just another haunted house movie” translates to its scare scenes, as well, leading to a major jump in a nightmare scenario, something horror fans can typically sense instinctually.

Though a film of build, We Are Still Here isn’t dour, injecting Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie’s strange vibes as a liberal, spiritualist couple into the proceedings and bursts of that Euro, visceral gore throughout. Its finale though is the real reward— an assault from all sides, conveyed via tightly orchestrated, mass splatter. It’s kind of everything you want. From real creeper air, to new perspective on an old standard, to impactful, surprising violence. We Are Still Here is a nicely ambitious and happily strange piece of New England folk horror.