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“WE ARE STILL HERE” (SXSW Movie Review)

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The modern-day haunted-house subgenre receives a particularly stylish, uniquely vivifying shot in the arm via WE ARE STILL HERE, writer/director Ted Geoghegan’s sometimes impish, always shrewd cinematic mashup (a world premiere at the current SXSW Film Festival).

In Geoghegan’s alternative universe, the iconic final home-invasion sequence of STRAW DOGS is transported to the AMITYVILLE HORROR house amidst echoes of POLTERGEIST, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY—that last Lucio Fulci surrealist nightmare so foundational to Geoghegan’s vision that many of WE ARE STILL HERE’s character names were drawn from those of its cast and crew. If that sounds like a sublime concoction of creeping dread, unhinged nuttiness and outright terror, it most certainly is—though Geoghegan is wise enough to slowly ratchet up the verisimilitude and tension throughout the smoldering first hour before setting his phasers to full mayhem.

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Here’s the setup: Reeling from the death of their beloved son, Anne and Paul Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) enter a sort of self-imposed state of semi-exile in an isolated New England small town populated by locals frostier than the snow-festooned landscape. Alas, even before a seriously malevolent force in the basement starts making things go bump in the night (and basically every other hour of the day…) or an oddball lady with the not-so-welcome wagon slips Paul an ominous note that warns, “This house needs a family. Get out,” Aylesbury proves itself a fairly unfortunate choice of healing retreats. Which is to say, if the lingering, fearsome-looking demonic ghost family don’t (literally) feed the Sacchettis to the house to appease an ancient evil that rises once every 30 years…well, their neighbors sure as hell will.

That’s just the kind of town it is.

The Sacchettis’ response to this is a bad-for-them-good-for-us proposition: They call in a couple of New Age pals—portrayed with wonderful loopiness by WENDIGO/HABIT director Larry Fessenden and Tim Burton regular Lisa Marie—whose attempts to like, chill the vibe out, man serve as gasoline on the fire. Next thing you know, the stairs are puking up the destroyed viscera of flinty New Englanders, there’s a full-on EVIL DEAD II-esque possession underway, the house is under siege by the pitchfork brigade and Anne and Paul are presumably wondering why they didn’t buy a B&B in Key West instead. Kudos here to THE THEATRE BIZARRE/CIRCUS OF THE DEAD vet Marcus Koch for some truly unsettling makeup FX work.

It is all demented in the very best way, deftly steered both into and out of narrative chaos by first-time director Geoghegan, whose years in various other trenches of genre screenwriting, production and publicity appear to have given him a solid sense of when to help an audience hold onto its equilibrium, and when to kick their unsuspecting asses screaming into the vortex. Structurally, that alone is an impressive feat, but what elevates WE ARE STILL HERE even further is the way it manages, from first line to very last, to imbue its exploration of the outer extremes of darkness and horror with a real poignancy, heart and humanity.

Modern horror could use a whole lot more of that kind of multidimensional boldness. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last trip audiences are able to take with Geoghegan and Co.

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com

The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have
appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the
Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He
also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column
Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.

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