Reviewer: John Carpenter
Released by: Dark Sky Films
Blu-Ray Release date: 10/6/2015
83 Mins/Not Rated
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16×9: Yes
Headed to Massacheusetts, Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) Sacchetti have a lot on their minds. Hoping for seclusion to deal with the death of their son, the Sacchetti’s seem to have found a gem. They find themselves in a cheap, cozy house with plenty of land between neighbors. Unfortunately, even inexpensive purchases can be costly. The story slowly unveils the history behind this new home. Once a mortuary owned by the Dagmar family, it was rumored they were run out of town for burying empty coffins and selling the bodies. Of course, this dastardly past comes back to haunt the Sacchetti family and anyone else who dares enter their all too warm basement.
There is something special about throwback horror. We live in a cinematic world where horror is filled with jump cuts, cheap scares, minimal plots, stereotypes and an ungodly desire to be more extreme. All of those attributes can be great – when used effectively. Unfortunately, many filmmakers don’t have the time, budget or (in some cases) talent to craft a horror movie that can stand out amongst the crowded competition. This isn’t to say fans haven’t been treated to good horror in recent years. There have been some classics. “We Are Still Here” joins that elite group. It is an example of a solid horror movie that does ‘throwback’ right. It blends genres in a different way. A lot of recent horror movies blend comedy (“What We Do in The Shadows”) or drama (“Felt” Review HERE) to add depth to the final product. Writer/Director Ted Geoghegan blends two subgenres. The first is an old school haunted house movie. “We Are Still Here” starts as a slow burn. It teases and taunts in the way Tobe Hooper did with “Poltergeist.” Clearly there is evil in this movie, the question is, “How bad things can get?” It will take time to figure that out. The Dagmar family wants to spy from the shadows and toy with victims before pouncing in for a kill. The clever use of movement and lighting tricks the mind into a hypersensitivity to background images. Viewers will start to ‘see’ things in the background and miss where the evil is truly hiding. This style succeeds because the movie’s pace allowed for creating a dark mood and building suspense. This creepy atmosphere is nothing but dark clouds. A forewarning to the true storm that rumbles deep. “We Are Still Here” is about to get bad.
To say things get bad, one must understand what ‘bad’ is. The movie doesn’t turn sour or lose any entertainment value. “We Are Still Here” gets “Bad” in a 1987, Michael Jackson kind of way. It just takes over in the coolest way possible. In Geoghegan’s world, things get bad with a heavy dose of Italian horror – specifically, Lucio Fulci’s “The House by The Cemetery.” Explained further in the commentary track, “We Are Still Here” tips its hat to the 1981 classic in a variety of ways. The most noticeable way is with the gore. This isn’t the ghost of your “Mama,” meaning “We Are Still Here” doesn’t build on a cornerstone of CG fluff and creepy kid moments to achieve shockingly scary moments. When these irritated spirits attack, it is obvious. Blood splatters as it would in the Italian horror movies of old. The gore helps “We Are Still Here” transcend what millennials may tag as a boring old ghost story. This injection of modern flair is perfect and balances the entertainment in a special way for fans who pick up on the movies and artists that inspired Geoghegan’s vision.
With a wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Dark Sky Films’ 1080p, AVC encoded Blu-ray looks marvelous. Considering the movie relies on discrete background movement to clue viewers in on the mayhem within the Dagmar house. Colors tend to run warm and natural throughout the feature. The house is quite homely, with neutrals covering most of the landscape. Outdoor scenes showcase a white winter. Typically, this would give clothing an opportunity to really pop, but the wardrobe is fairly low key as well. Aside from May’s (Lisa Marie) floral top, there aren’t many opportunities for color to give that high definition ‘pop’ that we’ve come to admire. This comes down to stylistic choices rather than an issue with presentation. An area that does excel is detail. Those snowy exterior shots are stunning and there is plenty for the eyes to capture indoors, especially the basement. The DTS-HD 5.1 track gives a well rounded performance as well. Dialogue levels are spot on up front. There is plenty of other movement around the sound field to add to the creepy, unsettling feeling of “We Are Still Here.” The speakers really come to life with Wojciech Golczewski’s score. It compliments the ‘barely there’ subtleties found in the sound effect department. This isn’t to say the sound effects are not up to par. They are excellent. Just as images hide in the background, sound follows suit. There are ‘did you hear that?’ moments peppered throughout the sound field that will play to the viewers as well as the characters on screen. Think of how Sam Raimi used sound as a weapon in “Drag Me to Hell.” Geoghegan does the same with “We Are Still Here,” but in a different way. Rather than going bold, the sound design in “We Are Still Here” sticks with the overall tone and the results are fantastic. It is refreshing to see this type of restraint in an age where jump scares run rampant. There is also a 2.0 English lossless track for those who don’t have a surround sound setup. Dark Sky Films has once again presented a fine Blu-ray to horror fans.
The special features begin with a laid back commentary track from Writer/Director Ted Geoghegan and Producer Travis Stevens. There is an obvious rapport between the two as they uncover the ‘Easter eggs’ hidden within “We Are Still Here,” the 1970s era influence, music, weather conditions and disclose the overall thought process behind making the movie. Topics are fairly loose throughout, never veering toward a dry, technical centered commentary. It is certainly worth a listen, if only to hear Ted’s hatred for cell phones in horror movies and filming scenes with people in a car talking. The only other real extra is a “Behind the Scenes” (7:04) segment. Dark Sky Films also included “Teaser” (1:39) and full length (1:35) trailers for “We Are Still Here,” where the teaser is surprisingly longer. There are also trailers for other Dark Sky Films releases like “Redeemer,” (1:35) “Para Elisa” (1:33) and one of my favorites, “Starry Eyes” (1:58).
Like so many other horror movies, “We Are Still Here” needs to be “The LIttle Engine That Could” in order to succeed. It fell short of being a huge box office draw, removing it from competition like “Sinister” or the “Poltergeist” remake (Details HERE) and leaving it to word of mouth to help push this indie horror to the masses on home video. As you will likely hear from horror fans who have seen this creepy flick – “We Are Still Here” is worth your time. The movie rocks. The disc looks and sounds great. Sure there are only a couple of extra features, but the commentary track is solid and the price point is perfect. Do yourself a favor – After getting back from the theater and seeing one of the ‘big’ horror movies, pop this in the Blu-ray player and give it a spin. Odds are you will walk away impressed with the eighty-three minutes Ted Geoghegan has put together.
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