Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Back to the old haunted house: Ted Geoghegan's pretty nifty genre debut, WE ARE STILL HERE

Moviemakers never seem to tire of taking us for another visit to that haunted house -- these days most often with elements not just of the expected ghost story but of related genres like horror and slasher, too. The latest foray into this combina-tion comes from a fellow named Ted Geoghegan, whom many of us critics have worked with in his capacity as a movie PR person. It always good to discover someone you know so adeptly changing hats (it happened just last month, too, with John Stuart Wildman and his genre piece, The Ladies of the House), and now here we have Mr. Geoghegan's oddball, enticing, very well-cast and -acted, tart n' tasty horror, WE ARE STILL HERE.

The filmmaker, shown at right, does some unusual things within this fairly typical genre, most surprisingly leaving much of his exposition to be finally shared with his audience during the end credits! He also plays fast and loose with any ground rules concerning his "monsters," who appear to inhabit only the house -- in the cellar, of course, and Geoghegan, along with his production design (Marcella Brennan) and art director (Sean Hughes) have created quite a creepy version of same -- but then suddenly seem to be able roam a bit farther and wider.

The "we" of the title -- those monsters, 'natch -- are done quite effectively, too, for the low-budget efficiencies they are (one of which is shown above). They'll bring new meaning to that old wartime saw, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes."

The filmmaker, who both wrote and directed this little foray into fright, doesn't explain much of anything upfront, as his heroic couple, played by the lovely Barbara Crampton (fans will immediately recall Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator and From Beyond) and Andrew Sensenig (above, left and right, respectively). Why they have arrived at this, of all houses, is a big question. Just fate, I guess.

Once the movie gets started and the newcomers are paid a visit by their "neighbors," including a smart, nasty little performance from Monte Markham, above, you'll probably feel that glue binding your tush to the chair. This "house" evidently needs a crew of victims every so often, and these newcomers certainly seem to fill the bill.

They are soon joined by their good friends (and sometimes spiritualists) Jacob and May (Larry Fessenden, above left, and Lisa Marie, above right, both doing a bang-up job: He all loosy-goosy funny, she quite caring and serious). Soon after, that other couple's son and his girlfriend arrive. Naughtiness (accompanied by blood and guts) ensues. The "seance" Geoghegan has concocted is one of the better ones seen on film in awhile, in which Mr. Fessenden truly excels.

Geoghegan knows how to create both suspense and a smart sudden shock, and he gives these to us with enough frequency to make the movie worthwhile for genre fans. He also draws fine performances from his cast, with Fessenden and Ms Marie delivering surprisingly rich additions, while Ms Crampton, above, is even better here than she was in the better movie You're Next (a survival-thriller classic, by the way, which you must see if you somehow missed it). Her warmth and concern help hold the movie together and keep us rooting for her against what look like heavy odds.

The filmmaker also understands how to swivel on a dime, and so his movie often keeps us nicely off-balance as its twists and turns are spinning. He makes particularly good use of his "townspeople," above, who do not, shall we say, offer these newcomers much of a warm welcome. And his cinematography (by the fine Karim Hussain) knows its way around lighting, mood, and atmosphere.

As to "just desserts," it's difficult to say; we don't know enough, finally, to understand the "why" of much that has gone on. Overall, though, Geoghegan does an adequate job of piecing his story together without too heavy an explication, while doing a bang-up job of scaring our pants off.

We Are Still Here (indeed!) -- from Dark Sky Films and running just 84 minutes -- opens this Friday, June 5, here in New York at the Cinema Village and in L. A. at the Laemmle Music Hall 3. Simultaneously, it can be viewed via VOD.

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