FrightFest Review: WE ARE STILL HERE (2015){0}

The cool thing about the old-school horror stories is how versatile they are. For every traditional vampire movie (or novel, or TV series), there’s another one that changes the rules, that subverts our expectations, or that combines a few sub-genres in clever or exciting ways.

And then there are just old-school “throwback” horror films: ones that do all they can to evoke the look, the style, and (hopefully) the class that is often found in chiller flicks from the 1960s and 1970s. Suffice to say that the new indie horror flick called We Are Still Here feels like it feel right out of 1978, and that’s meant to be taken in the best way possible. The plot is enjoyably simple stuff: a couple who are still grieving over the death of their son move into an isolated New England house, slowly come to realize that something supernatural is afoot, and quickly decide to invite a pair of “spiritualist” pals to come visit – partially to have some company, but mainly because Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) are starting to believe in the supernatural. And they don’t like it.

After an effectively sedate first act in which we get to know Anne and Paul (and get a peek around their ominous new home), We Are Still Here starts to pick up a lot of energy once Jacob (Larry Fessenden) and May (Lisa Marie) arrive at the Sacchetti’s new home. At first the new age-y guests provide a welcome diversion from Anne’s creepy visions, Paul’s mounting unhappiness, and the presence of numerous things that go bump in the night, but make no mistake: at one point We Are Still Here turns from a handsome homage to late-’70s TV movies into a full-bore scare machine that feels more than a little inspired by folks like John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, and Sam Raimi.

If it’s the slyly effective combination of numerous horror themes, tropes, clichés, and conventions that make We Are Still Here so much fun to watch, it’s the ensemble cast that seals the deal and elevates the movie into something more than just a horror geek curiosity piece. Leads Andrew Sensenig (Powers) and Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) provide the necessary foundation (meaning: interesting characters we actually start to care about); Larry Fessenden (Late Phases) and Lisa Marie (Sleepy Hollow) add a nice dose of energy just when the film needs it; and the effortlessly malevolent Monte Markham (Piranha) provides us with a villain who’s as amusing as he is fascinating.

Kudos to first-time director Ted Geoghegan (who, full disclosure, I’ve known for years, and is a super nice guy) for taking about a half-dozen themes and ideas from horror tales he plainly adores, and somehow wedging them all into a great little movie that actually works on its own merits. While it’s not that difficult to shoot a scene “like that one from Halloween,” copying and evoking are not the same thing. (P.S. More kudos to cinematographer Karim Hussain and production designer Marcella Brennan.) Eventually an homage has to sink or swim on its on steam, and it’s safe to say that this one does. And in some pretty crazy ways.

You’ll notice all sorts of horror movie DNA floating through We Are Still Here, but it’s also sort of novel and even a little bit unique in its own right — simply because, despite its potentially well-worn premise, there aren’t all that many indie horror movies like this one. To say much more would spoil some of the supernatural / splattery surprises, but suffice to say there’s a lot to like here. Doubly so if you grew up as a horror freak in the late ’70s/early ’80s.