"We Are Still Here" is a legitimately scary, occasionally funny, and always smart homage to '70s/'80s horror. The dialogue and performances may feel a bit ham-fisted at times, but when things kick into high gear, the wonky exposition takes a backseat to some truly memorable and terrifying stuff.
After the tragic and untimely death of their son, a married couple move far away to a small New England town in an attempt to leave their melancholy behind. Anne (Barbara Crampton, '80s horror staple) immediately feels her son Bobby's presence in the new house, and while her husband, Paul, doesn't buy in to it at first, as evidence of the supernatural piles up, it's not long before he's a believer.
To help free her mind, Anne invites over their New Age, pot-smoking hippie friends Jacob and May (the parents of their late son's roommate) to reminisce and maybe even perform a séance. When May taps into the spirits of the house, it becomes clear that the forces at work here are more sinister than a friendly visit from Bobby.
The melodrama of the opening sequence may be a bit off-putting at first, but once all the wheels are set in motion, the film picks up the pace and dives right into the insanity. Genre legend Larry Fessenden turns in the film's best performance as Jacob, balancing big laughs with genuine terror, and Crampton also shines in a more muted, understated role.
The film succeeds by touting a seemingly predictable story and using it to subvert the audience's expectations. The characters think they know what's happening, but the reality of the situation goes far deeper than that, and first-time director Ted Geoghegan isn't afraid to sprinkle in his own mythology to spice things up.
Rather than follow the boring traditional route, the film veers left when you expect it to go right, constantly keeping you engaged and wondering what new danger will be revealed next. By the third act, things get bloody. Like, really bloody.
There are a few sequences so effective and scary that they remain firmly implanted in my mind even several days later. The CGI baddies are honestly never that intimidating, and the scares all come from well-paced, well-shot, and well-edited moments in which their reveal is scarier than the beings themselves. When one of the spirits gets loose and possesses the body of one of the characters, it's genuinely terrifying. There are a number of other unlikely surprises that I will not spoil here, and the paranormal stuff is only the tip of the dread iceberg.
"We Are Still Here" is one of those modern horror works that simply would not exist without the laundry list of genre films that inspired it. Instead of feeling reductive as a result, it brilliantly mashes up these retro conventions and sensibilities with more modern horror aesthetics to create something wholly satisfying. Horror fans will definitely want to cut out 80 minutes for this one.
"We Are Still Here" debuts in limited theatrical release (Cinema Village in NYC) and on VOD services June 5.
Watch the trailer below.
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