We Are Still Here

There is no way around it: the only way I can write an interesting review of We Are Still Here is to spoil the hell out of it.

You see, all of the totally-fair-to-talk-about parts of We Are Still Here aren't that interesting. Its set up is standard issue scary movie stuff: the Sacchettis are a middle aged couple who just bought a new house out in the country because their old house reminded them too much of their son who died in a car crash a few months ago. Unfortunately, their new rustic abode seems to be full of quirks - the basement is hot as the fires of hell and they keep hearing bumps in the night...

Who cares, right? Haunted house movies are totally played out.

Fortunately, as We Are Still Here progresses it starts to throw a few curveballs into the mix and as it does so it gets more interesting. The first big twist comes when their next door neighbor Dave McCabe shows up on their porch in the middle of the night. The Sacchettis invite him in for a drink and deranged ol' Dave doesn't even make it into the living room before he starts telling them all about some evil bastards named the Dagmars who ran a dishonest funeral home on this exact spot way back in the 1830s. Apparently the Dagmars were burying empty coffins and selling the corpses to medical schools in the nearest big city, and when the scam was uncovered the town got so mad that they formed a lynch mob and burned the shady immigrants alive in their own home...

I know that doesn't sound like a twist - in fact, on paper that scene just sounds like typical horror movie exposition. But We Are Still Here is actually using Dave's big speech to do three different things:

1. That speech subtly switches the movie's tone from "default horror" to "possible meta-horror" -  Dave doesn't organically unreel his story (as he would in a normal movie), he immediately unleashes it with the breathless urgency of a true madman. It is an absurd thing to do and We Are Still Here knows it.

2. It also establishes that the Sacchetis have to worry about Dave McCabe as much as they have to worry about the ghosts in their house - he gives off a real Roman Castevet from Rosemary's Baby vibe and you can tell that he's a wolf in sheep's clothing. That is a promising development because a crazy neighbor is  a lot more unpredictable than a basement dwelling ghost.

3. It's actually giving us exposition. Come on, it's a horror movie - it might innovate in a few ways, but it isn't going to reinvent the wheel.

Now here's the part where I have to get real spoiler-y: it is revealed towards the end of We Are Still Here that this small new England town has to appease some evil demons every thirty years or so and that Dave McCabe's ancestors actually killed the Dagmars because they needed a blood sacrifice, not because they were guilty of anything. This pissed the Dagmars off and now they are trying to keep the Sacchettis alive out of spite because they know that if the blood-monsters don't eat the new folks in town then they will start to devour the old townspeople instead, thus punishing them for what their forefathers did way back in Andrew Jackson times. 

I was fascinated by that plot twist because first of all: why would the McCabe family stay in a podunk little town for two centuries if they knew that it would be overrun by angry monsters every thirty years? I mean, I love Portland, but if someone told me that it would be overflowing with human chewing supernatural forces on a regular basis I would immediately say to myself "enh, there are 49 and 3/4 other states that also have houses in them." Or at the very least I would keep track of the monster's rigid schedule and then take a sabbatical down to Florida every thirtieth year. I can understand staying in a place that has a reoccurring cicada problem but there's too much open land in the Americas to think "I have no choice but to put up with this place's ongoing unholy blood demon infestation." 

More importantly, that revelation fascinated me because it made Dave's speech in the Sacchetti's foyer look even more insane. If his goal was to make sure that the Sacchetti's stick around long enough to become monster food then why did he tell them a bunch of spooky shit in the middle of the night? If I was in his shoes I would have told my new neighbors something pleasant like "there's a cute little farm up the road that sells really good strawberry jam" or "let's go sledding in the snow tomorrow", not "by the way, you are currently living in a ghost-infested murder house". Not to sound accusatory or anything but it kind of seems like Dave just isn't very good at suckering people into becoming blood sacrifices.

Look: I know that it's possible to write about We Are Still Here's without spoiling all of the twist and turns that take place in the movie's final act. But that would misrepresent the movie, because all of the opening haunted house stuff is very pedestrian and all of the final supernatural-tug-of-war stuff is totally bonkers. We've all seen movies where a house is infested with ghosts that really hate picture frames and well-organized bookshelves, but a movie that triangulates between ghosts, serial killers and blood monsters - well, that's something more novel. Totally insane, but novel.

Winner: Me

We Are Still Here on IMDB