We Are Still Here (2015)

We Are Still Here is a 2015 independent movie who's name is absurdly hard to get right . . . if you're dumb like us anyway. It follows a couple in the 1970's as they move into a new house in New England and strange things start to happen. There are strange things with the basement, strange things with the locals, and strange things with their friends. This one goes in a few different directions. Check out the trailer below, and then continue on down for our thoughts on the thing. Unless you're worried about spoilers. We do those.

 
 

Jake: We Are Still Here. Not we, A-Z Horror, are still here, even though we are, but the 2015 horror movie entitled We Are Still Here. That’s what we are here to review this week. Mark and I anyway. Jack may or may not still be here. I really don’t care, honestly.

Mark: Good lord. Way to start that on a strong note. A-Z Horror, come for the witty banter, but stay because you’re literally too confused to leave. We Are Still Here is a suspiciously difficult moniker to recall correctly. We’ve each taken turns calling this thing “We Never Left” or “We’re Not Alone” or various other flavors. As a result I heroically started calling this movie “WASH” to keep things straight. Apparently this is also useful because having a grammatically correct complete sentence as a movie title can make it hard to talk about. So, yeah, WASH, written and directed by Ted Geoghegan.

Jake: It’s also important to note that Mark and I are reviewing this one together because we were the furthest apart on this thing, and we’ve taken our readers’ feedback (like professionals) that sometimes, maybe we are a little too aligned in our opinions on films. I’d say it’s because great minds think alike but there’s two things about that: first, we are most assuredly NOT great minds, and second the customer is always right. That’s what you get from having an advanced business degree, kids. Stay in school. And don’t crash your car and die like the son did in the events leading up to WASH. It’s bad form, and it makes your parents do crazy shit like move to New England.

 
Pictured: A serene New England hamlet. Hope you like brown. 'New England: Not even once.'

Pictured: A serene New England hamlet. Hope you like brown. 'New England: Not even once.'

 

Mark: Super, now that we’ve properly alienated what is probabilistically about half of our audience with our liberal west coast ideals, we can move on with things. I guess you could call WASH a period piece if you wanted to. They go out of their way to set it in the late 1970s. The cars, the clothes, the props are all very 70s and are actually executed fairly well. In the biz that’s called mise-en-scène. I know that because I took an intro to film class in college and that qualifies me as being an expert. The whole schtick works well enough, but it always bothers me when movies change the time setting without actually having a reason why. Yeah, it’s set in the 70s, but aside from the fashion trends there’s basically no other reference as to why they needed it to be set then. Just one of the many sloppy, poorly conceived aspects of this story.

Jake: Just diving right in there huh? The story centers on a couple, Anne and Paul Sacchetti, played by Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig. They’re moving into a new house to escape their depression over their son Bobby’s recent death. Soon after arriving, things start happening. Really subtle things, but it’s enough to make Anne certain beyond all certainty that Bobby’s spirit is there with them in the house. Andrew knows better, naturally, and spends most of his time trying to actually get shit done like fix the faulty boiler in the basement that makes the whole place really, really hot. One of the things that I enjoyed about this movie is that it didn’t take a lot of time to cut to the chase. They arrive, we as the audience get filled in on their situation, and things start happening. Cool.

Mark: Part of eventually going off the rails implies that you start out on the rails, or at the very least rail-approximate. And you’re right, the lead in to the movie is actually decent. They don’t overwhelm you with exposition and you get a sense for who the characters are.

Jake: The thing that was immediately apparent with this movie was the cinematography. I know you ultimately have some major issues with the story, but I think it’s tough to argue with the cinematic execution. The sets were all well done and everything felt appropriate for a film set in the late 70’s. As you mentioned, there’s basically no practical need for setting this in the 70’s as opposed to a vague take on the present day. It played no bearing on the story, and I was actually uncertain if it was the 70’s or if the older couple just had thins from then because of all the shit they probably accumulated from their wedding. Mark?

Mark: Right . . . things they accumulated from their wedding. Hopefully they didn’t have friends like you because we just received your ‘gift,’ and I’m sure that the 9 unopened cans of Hamms, 21 crumpled cans, and ripped open case will go great next to our fine china. In our most recent Horror Release Roundup I talked a bit about the movie Cell, where I wasn’t sure if it was terrible execution of a great stroy or great execution on a terrible story. This movie also falls into that amorphous bucket. I’m going with great execution of a dumb story, because ultimately you’re right about the cinematography and general feel of the movie.

 
Recently named "Second Most Romantic Wedding Present" in Martha Stewart Wedding Magazine.

Recently named "Second Most Romantic Wedding Present" in Martha Stewart Wedding Magazine.

 

Jake: What I liked most about all of that was the way the movie allowed the basement to naturally come to the surface as a problem area. The boiler trouble in the basement creates a believable reason to explore the area, and helps introduce the haunting in the house without a ton of unnecessary dialogue. Even the filming in the basement aids in making it ominous, as the camerawork becomes noticeably grainier and is shot from the corners. Something about it reminded me of the Blair Witch Project.

Mark: This is when the movie starts to shift from promising upstart to the garbage fueled trainwreck. That’s right, it went full Kaepernick. The movie seems to say out loud “What’s that? You want exposition? Well then, here’s five scenes in a row of unnecessary exposition.” We first meet some neighbors, and they handle the introduction as gracefully as a bag of dicks without a handle. This our first view of Dave, the town’s (spoiler alert) evil priest and head murderer. We don’t know that yet, but the movie goes well out of its way to make sure we don’t trust this guy. Dave’s character is infuriatingly ill-conceived. Just going back over these scenes is getting my jimmies all rustled.

 
He knows.

He knows.

 

Jake: And this is where I will agree that the movie begins having problems. To the point when the neighbors are introduced, we’ve gotten enough out of the world-building to fall into a rhythm with the Sacchetti’s haunted new abode. When Dave and wife are introduced, their over the top presence doesn’t fit well, and it breaks the immersion a bit. Unlike Mark, I think the movie did an adequate job with its story, but if I have an indictment, it’s that this is a movie that has two distinct halves from a tonal standpoint, and it does not do a very good job of separating those in a natural way. The McCabe’s are a sort of harbinger for the more absurd second part of the film, but it feels like the movie deliberates for too long on which part it is trying to live in.

Mark: The movie has a serious identity crisis. Is it a ghost story? Is it a paranormal gore fest? Is it trying to be campy or serious? All of these questions and more. This wouldn’t be wholly game-breaking in most cases, but saddled with the impossibly bad story it just ends up magnifying all of the faults. Which is really too bad because I enjoyed both the subtle haunting and over-the-top gorefest sides separately, but it just created a sort of friction that didn’t feel right. I guess you’re right on the halves, but really it’s thirds. First third, haunting. Last third, slaughterhouse. Middle (and longest) third, basically just movie puberty.

Jake: It’s not that it can’t be done effectively, either. Hell, arguably my favorite horror movie of all time, From Dusk Till Dawn, is THE classic example in horror of a film with two distinct parts, and it executes those well by simply taking the plunge when the transition arrives. I would have preferred this movie to do that as well. Instead, we’ve got a bump-in-the-night ghost story with some effectively chilling elements due to awesome filmmaking that begins to run aground with the dissonance of characters like the McCabe’s and the tree smoking hippy-fuck friends Anne brings in to try to help get to the bottom of the perceived haunting.

Mark: To backtrack a bit, we have gotten some good haunting scenes at this point, including one that is basically just straight out of Lights Out. True to horror form, the black guy dies first and then the young horny couple gets theirs.

* Editor’s Note * First off, It’s Jack! I’m here suckahs, just editing this week. And we know, the black guy didn’t actually die, but he did depart the movie. Also the young horny couple getting offed makes me think this is a slasher . . .

Mark: Through these scenes we start to see the ghosts' modus operandi. They’re clearly burnt to a crisp, make rooms smell like smoke, and in an inversion of the usual ghost-makes-the-room-cold trope they make the house incredibly hot. Everything they touch get’s severely burned. Through a wall of exposition and not so subtle hints we are informed that there was a shady family named the Dagmars that was burned alive by the townspeople because reasons. We kinda get some glimpses of what they can do early on in the film but we really don’t see them in action until the horny young’ns show up.

Jake: And yeah, god damn. I forgot to mention the kids are more invitees of Anne’s. She flies straight the fuck over the cuckoo’s nest when they get to the house and she decides Bobby’s ghost is there. I think she invites the kid because he was Bobby’s best friend and she thinks it will be comforting to the ghost. Well, lady… you were wrong. Not only is it not comforting to the decidedly not Bobby ghosts, it pisses them off. Bad. The kids get there, immediately steal some whiskey, and start makin’ out. You know, kid stuff. They hear something, so the guy follows the noises to the basement and is immediately bull-rushed by a ghost, and it caves his skull right the fuck in. Understandably, the girl bails and drives away. Too bad it seems these ghosts can also leave the house, and can put their embery appendages straight through car seats to impale you like a hot knife through butter. Nice. And holy shit was it unexpected. I loved it.

Mark: Backseat drivers, amirite? This is all happening while the parents are out at dinner. They go to a bar and the townsfolk are staring daggers at them the entire time. Again, the movie isn’t particularly great at subtlety in any form, so the scene is just kinda awkward. This is another good example of the movie having an identity crisis. We go from the son’s friend having his head exploded to a bunch of people exchanging bad dialogue at the back of a bar. I guess you could say that it’s for pacing, but I think that’s giving the movie a bit too much credit as it just ends up being jarring. A scene or two later we get a part where the bartender and restaurant owner are discussing the new folks in town when there’s a knock at the door. They’re closed, but the young bartender lady goes to answer the door. There’s the sound of a shotgun shot off-screen and Dave McCabe, the murder pastor, enters.

Jake: It’s really that shotgun blast from off screen that I would call the beginning of the second part of the movie. After that we get a lot of mayhem in relatively short order. Jacob tries to conduct a seance with Andrew while the wives are out and gets full on possessed by Dagmar. Dave stabs his wife to death because we have to assume she tried to warn the Sacchettis to leave. The townspeople form an angry mob and break into the house to kill the Sacchettis because the Dagmars aren’t doing so. And all of that’s before the real bloodbath starts. Man on man, once the townspeople get into the house, they are killed by the Dagmar ghosts in all sorts of glorious ways.

Mark: Okay. Okay. OKAY. Woah there bud. That was a lot of rant-worthy shit you just glossed right over. Let’s break that up a bit. So the scene in the bar makes no sense whatsoever. Why the hell does Dave just straight up kill the shit out of the young and seemingly innocent bartender? She’s a regular in the town, which is the people that Dave is actively trying to protect? I mean, what? Also, why the hell is that off-screen when the movie has already displayed its propensity for gore? You don’t even see blood in that scene. The other thing is that despite the figurative tsunami of exposition that we get from Dave in all of his scenes we still get essentially no backstory on the “curse” that is the backdrop to the overall story. I’ll rant on that one later because fuck me that shit is annoying. Also, this guy stabs his wife to death (what exactly is he trying to protect anyway?) to prevent her from warning the Sacchettis, but then leaves her to die next to a phone so she is able to warn them anyway. Think about that for a minute. Actually, don’t. Because that shit is obnoxious as all hell. What is the point of the wife in this story anyway? She’s super quiet and just sorta foreboding in a not-subtle-at-all kinda way, and then she is unceremoniously murdered after issuing a warning that doesn’t change the course of the story even remotely. I can’t even give the film the benefit of the doubt that it’s just not explaining itself well because it actively contradicts itself all over the place. God dammit. I got my vapors all worked up now.

Mark, seen here reacting to a movie with a less-than-well-thought-out plot.

Mark, seen here reacting to a movie with a less-than-well-thought-out plot.

Jake: Glad I was able to help out, man. It’s better for the reader this way. You bring up some good points but I’m not going to go with you on the curse bit. If you’re complaining about the torrent of exposition, the last fuckin’ thing we needed was even more exposition to explain the curse. Think about it. They mention that the house was built on a site it shouldn’t have been. You don’t need them to pen a map of the indian burial ground to understand that’s the trope we are dealing with. I thought it was effective. I can’t defend all the other shit that was or was not included, and I’m probably giving this point a bit too much of the benefit of the doubt because they do eventually throw an arbitrary 30 year number on when the curse must be satiated with human blood, but if you start putting plans under microscopes, nothing’s gonna make sense, alright?

 
 

Mark: That brings us to the possession scene. Like you said, Andrew’s hippy friend Jacob tries to conduct a seance because they’re still idiotically convinced that they’re being haunted by their son and not murderous fire-ghosts. The dude make the classic mistake of calling out to literally the entire spirit world for communication. Rookie mistake. He get’s possessed and we get ANOTHER exposition scene. This one actually works pretty well though as you have Jacob’s voice intermingled with the patriarch of the Dagmar family’s voice. In a move surprising no one, the ghost confirms that their family was burnt to death in the house and that, well you know, they are still there. Jacob stabs himself in the eye with a fire poker because by that point we had all had enough of the whole demonic possession thing. In a move that actually was surprising, however, his wife then get’s her head blown off by Dave and his trusty boomstick. This scene was yet another that didn’t make any sense. They close the door (that is about 50% transparent glass) to protect themselves from the guy with the shotgun, and it works. What the hell is Dave doing on the other side of the door? They nonsensically buy themselves a shit load of time to barricade the upstairs and arm themselves with kitchen knives.

Jake: Can we get to the gorefest now?

Mark: Stop stifling me Jake. You brought this on yourself with your impressively short gloss-over. Like you said, the townsfolk have formed a mob to take matters into their own hands and murder the Sacchettis. These folk, knowing full well that the house is haunted by vengeful spirits, enter the premises expecting to be able to murder with impunity. It does not go well. The Dagmars get to work inducing literal blood geysers all over the place. Some people get their heads crushed, some get dragged through the floorboards, some still have their chest cavities exploded. Despite the fact that it makes literally no sense these scenes are actually really fun. It seems obvious that this was the reason they wanted to make the film, but they just couldn’t figure out how to get there from a narrative standpoint so they just went for it. Points for style I guess. You do get what is the best stabbing scene I’ve ever seen, in which no fewer than four kitchen knives are stabbed into someone’s neck at once. Apparently one just wouldn’t do. The scene culminates in Dave lecturing the Dagmars about how lax they’ve been in their murderous ways and that they are terrible at being ghosts. There’s a curse that we still don’t know anything about, but apparently it’s easier to satisfy the thing by allowing ghosts to kill whatever family moves into the house every thirty years. He’s saying this after a lot more than a family has already been killed. Also, it’s implied that the Dagmars aren’t killing the Sacchettis because they need a family, and not just a couple, but then why in the hell would the townspeople have sold the house to a non-qualifying family unit in the first place? Also wouldn’t killing the two kids and the hippy mom and dad qualify? Why are we still bloodlusted? Anyway, the main Dagmar decides he’s heard enough from Dave and caves his head in. Dagmars gonna Dagmar.

Jake: After crushing McCabe’s dome like an egg, the Dagmars are seemingly satisfied with their revenge against the townsfolk who murdered them all in sacrifice, and disappear. The movie ends on a somewhat puzzling note, with Anne heading into the basement in a daze, with Andrew soon to follow, now believing Bobby’s spirit is there with them.

Mark: The ending is even more infuriating than the rest of the movie. Presumably the couple wasn’t murdered because they were somehow protected from the evil by Bobby, and now that the evil has passed they get to commune with their dead son. That’s a stupid ending. I prefer to do some wildly undeserved work on behalf of the film and assume that Paul and Anne are lured into the basement where they are slaughtered by the ghosts. This plays into a post-credits scene where the living room is completely back to normal and an unseen poltergiest plays a single note on the piano. #2Spooky4Me. I suppose it’s a note that the cycle just continues, but the scene is otherwise meaningless, much like the rest of the movie.

Jake: I have no idea what happened to be honest. What I do know is that they are either killed in that basement, or are totally fucked anyway because pretty much everyone in that town is now dead. I’m sure at some point, word will get out, and we all know where the cops will be coming . . . 

 
 

Mark: Alright so remember how I said we didn’t know anything about the curse? Well, I guess the filmmakers also figured that out so the credits are played over a series of newspaper images explaining the curse to some extent. In short, every thirty years shit hits the fan in some way - a plague, a drought, a plight, the river turned black at some point, etc. Somewhere along the line the townspeople figured out they needed to sacrifice a family to sate the curse and push it back another 30 years. Woof. This raises more questions than I have room to discuss, but chief among them is why in the hell are people staying in this town? There doesn’t seem to be any industry keeping them in place, and they specifically note that the curse doesn’t spread beyond certain geographical borders. So… uhhh... what? I guess property taxes are low, and things are just simpler when you get to sacrifice a family every thirty years. Also, just for the record, this makes the ghost story aspect of the movie completely irrelevant. They aren’t agents of the curse or anything, they’re just convenient murderers. That also means that they don’t give a shit about whether or not a family is living in their house or not. Oh god I can’t keep thinking about this.

Jake: I didn’t have nearly the problem with them that you did. I felt like all the information that was delivered here was supportive of what we were told in the film, but it was unnecessary. I didn’t need to know the exact year that the house was burned down. In fact, I feel like having all of this included in the film would have just added time and introduced pacing issues. Not to mention that it would have exacerbated the issues that I already have with the film by requiring more screentime for the McCabes and/or the hippies.

Mark: Any amount of screen time for any of the characters in this movie is too much screen time. We didn’t even talk about the bad CG or wooden acting because they were relatively less distracting than all of the movies other flaws. I think I’ve spoken my peace on this garbage pile. At least the gore was kinda fun.

Jake: I noticed almost no CG issues with this thing, and the acting wasn’t even that bad, man. We watch horror movies. We’ve seen some shit. I’m going to go on record here and say some shit that will be wildly unpopular with you and Jack, but I’ll take the Sachettis acting over what we got in Honeymoon. Ratings.

RATINGS (1-10):

For 1, think of how Wayne and Garth would rate Delaware:

 
 

For 10, think of how Chewbacca the sloth would rate carrots:

 
 

STORY:

Jake: 5 - I gotta hand it to you, Mark. You down-sold me on the story. There are definitely some inexplicable things going on. My real issue is the way it does not meld its two, distinct parts together well. At all. However, it does get points for doing something we do not commonly see, so kudos for having the balls to be a little different.

Mark: 1 - I mean technically it had a story. It was just a hot pile of garbage that exemplified “tell don’t show” style storytelling and constantly contradicted itself. The ghosts aren’t well explained, nor is the curse, nor is Dave McCabe. Mr. Geoghegan, what you just made is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever seen. At no point in your rambling incoherent narrative were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having seen it. I award you no points and may god have mercy on your soul.

WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:

Jake: 7 - I am going to leave parts of the story that are confusing or inexplicable behind and compartmentalize those in “Story” so I can give immersion a fair shake, even if they did play a slight role. I didn’t have any problem staying interested in the movie, the cinematography drew me in, and the setting was believable.

Mark: 6 - Like Jake, I try and not let my ratings in other categories to bleed over. Realistically the immersion is severely broken by the incredibly bad story, but I already knocked it for that. What’s left is that the movie is effectively shot and the setting is well constructed. I’m also knocking it here a bit for the sheer amount of exposition that is thrown at the watcher with exactly zero nuance or subtlety.

SCARE-FACTOR:

Jake: 7 - The front half had some good general creepiness and was really aided by the cinematography, and the gore in the second half was fuckin’ awesome.

Mark: 6 - I agree with Jake on this one. The scenes in the basement are very effective, and the scene in the back of the car was a nice little jumpscare. Not all of the jumpscares work well though, and once the movie goes off the rails there is little to no promise of actual scary things happening.

EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):

Jake: 8 - For gore to work, the effects have to be practical. And holy shit the gore worked in WASH. Bravo. I also had no problem with how the Dagmars looked.

Mark: 6 - As I have already mentioned the props and setting are well constructed. So it had that. Also, the gore was well executed from the perspective of it being pretty fun. Maybe not the most realistic looking stuff, but I’m not sure that’s actually what you want on that end. Where the movie falters is the CG and makeup tied to the Dagmars. There are points where you can see through the makeup to just the normal skin of the actors, and if they were willing to go in and add the shitty ember effects to the models, then why didn’t they just also digitally touch up the makeup?

OVERALL:

Jake: 7 - I had a ton of fun with this movie. It had balls, and it caught me off guard. I think Geoghegan did an awesome job and while there is certainly a lot of room for improvement, the direction was commendable. Looking forward to whatever may be next for him.

Mark: 3 - It’s the tale of two ratings. I actually would recommend that you watch the movie for the gorefest half of it, and also maybe for the haunting scenes in the basement. Outside of that though the movie is just a hot mess that gets increasingly aggravating and nonsensical the more you try and understand it. I’m usually pretty good at throwing movies bones on plot holes and whatnot, hell in Saw it actually makes the film better, but this one is just inexcusable. I gotta stop writing about this thing or my head’s going to explode.