The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


We Are Still Here

It can be difficult to come up with a truly original idea for a horror movie. So much has already been done. Many films simply try to rearrange elements that have been used successfully before. Ted Geoghegan's We Are Still Here looks, on the surface, pretty familiar. It involves an old house with a creepy basement and a terrible secret, paranormal visitors, doors that slam themselves, and so on. Yet it puts just enough of a different spin on those things, then drops them into a plot that's got far more thematic relevance than your typical fright flick.

Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig play Anne and Paul Sacchetti, a couple mourning the death of their son Bobby. Hoping to find some way to ease their grief, they move to a rustic old home in a small New England town. Anne, who has been in a deep depression, claims to sense Bobby's spirit in their new dwelling. The Sacchettis invite their psychic friend May (Lisa Marie) and her stoner husband Jacob (Larry Fessenden) up to see if they can contact him. Something isn't right with the house, though. Strange noises come from everywhere, and shadowy figures lurk around every corner. A creepily polite neighbor, Dave McCabe (Monte Markham), keeps poking around, while the townspeople prove surprisingly unfriendly. McCabe knows the house's dark past and why every thirty years it unleashes otherworldly terror. Anne and Paul quickly find out.

That probably doesn't sound terribly different from The Conjuring, the Insidious pictures, or a dozen other haunted house movies. However, there are twists that bring a bit of freshness, such as the way heat is a factor not only in how the house's ghostly inhabitants look, but also in how they attack. The evolving tone of We Are Still Here is a little different, too. It starts off with a degree of subtle mystery; then, as the big secret of the house is gradually revealed, it begins to shift into a more in-your-face gear, eventually delivering some of the best gory shocks seen onscreen in recent years.

It's the story that proves most pleasantly unexpected, though. Someone once said that all horror movies are intrinsically about death. We Are Still Here is no different, but it's about death as it applies to life. The movie looks at the unfinished business that often accompanies death and how the living are forced to deal with it. Anne is looking for a connection to Bobby – a way to feel that he's not gone, even though he is. She wants to say a proper goodbye. Meanwhile, the entities living in her home are also looking for communication. They have their own unfinished business with the living, and the intended recipients of their message are trying hard to avoid hearing it. We Are Still Here slowly erases the barrier between people left here and those who go on to the next place - be it Heaven, Hell, or something in between - imagining what it would mean for the living if it didn't exist.

Geoghegan has cast his movie perfectly. Barbara Crampton is a horror veteran, of course, having starred in From Beyond, You're Next, and the classic Re-Animator, among others. She knows how to find humanity in a character amid scares and gruesomeness, and she gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as the grieving mother. Andrew Sensenig (Upstream Color) is also very good, playing a character who is, to some degree, pushing his own sadness aside in order to help his wife get back on solid emotional ground. (He also gets the movie's last, and most goosebump-inducing, line.) Together, these two actors give We Are Still Here a strong human element that makes the story resonate in ways you wouldn't expect from a “haunted house movie.”

Much has been written about a supposed renaissance in horror, thanks to indie filmmakers taking chances and offering up bold visions. Personally, I think innovation has been going on in the indie horror genre for a long time and is nothing new. That said, there's no denying that first-rate pictures like The Babadook and It Follows are making more people pay attention. We Are Still Here stands right with them. Tautly paced, beautifully acted, and insanely unsettling, it is a fine example of how horror movies can be scary and meaningful at the same time.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: We Are Still Here will be released in theaters and on VOD June 5.

We Are Still Here is unrated, but contains language and sequences of gore. The running time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.

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