The opening shot of Ted Geoghegan’s directorial debut We Are Still Here is a blank canvas of snow; desolate, cold and perfect. Anne and Paul Sacchetti are on the way to their new home – the exterior landscape is not the only frosty element to the scene, the deep chill clearly present in the car. Anne (Barbara Crampton) is broken – though no victim; devastation is written all over her face, her eyes red raw from crying. Paul (Andrew Sensenig) keeps his feelings hidden in the odd tumbler of scotch. They have recently lost their son Bobby in a car accident and the new home is obvious attempt at escaping painful memories; the couple are connected in their grief and yet completely alone with it.
From the moment they pull up to the house, it is evident that things are not what they seem. It is very subtle but look closely at the shutters of the windows, they move, as if they are blinking; the house lives. It has a history and energy which hippy séance-loving friends Jacob and May Lewis (Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie) zone into when they pay a visit to the Sacchettis. The eeriness of the vacant rooms, creaking of door hinges and floorboards and a breeze coming from seemingly nowhere that keeps knocking over a framed photograph of Bobby. It has all the hallmarks of a haunted house film but somehow this feels more authentic. The camera is intrusive and lurks voyeuristically, the editing similar to Don’t Look Now as it draws the audience in, dialogue is scarce but that just adds to the tension.
Family is the heart of this film and Wojciech Golczewski’s original music compliments the theme wonderfully, playing with the melodrama and creating tension and foreboding. There are nods to Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Pupi Avati but they blend perfectly with the contemporary, albeit dateless, setting. There is even a yellow labelled J&B bottle of scotch perfectly placed, (although rebranded as B&J) displaying a sense of humour amid the modern aesthetic. The film is a slow burn and builds steadily to a bloody, yet profound, denouement. Oddtopsy FX provide some fabulous effects and gives us some real picturesque deaths as the house quite literally devours. Who knew arterial spray against a canvas backdrop could look so beautiful?
We Are Still Here plays with the 70s and 80s but feels wholly original. It is smart, well-acted, funny and was the standout of this year’s FrightFest.