Paul and Anne Saccehtti are a middle aged couple still reeling from the accidental death of their son, Bobby. To aid in their coping, they've purchased a home in a quiet New England town, possibly in Massachusetts. Deeply spiritual, Anne believes she can feel the spirit of Bobby in their new home, but Paul, ever the skeptic, thinks she is just hanging on to her grief. After a quiet couple of weeks, they meet two of their neighbors, Dave and Cat McCabe, who fill them in on the disturbing history of the previous owners of their home. It once belonged to the Dagmar family, a reclusive bunch that were run out of town when rumors sprung up that the head of the family, Lassander, the local mortician, had been selling the corpses he was supposedly burying to some “university over in Essax County”.
In the days after the visit, things at the Dagmar house go from quiet to disquieting. The smell of smoke fills the basement and the repairman called in to service the old boiler is found in shock, his arm burned during an encounter with something evil lurking in the shadows. Anne invites her spiritualist friends, Jacob and Mary, to spend some relaxing time with them, but Mary feels an evil presence haunting the home. Before long, Anne and Paul are not only under siege from vengeful ghosts, but from a town full of people eager to keep a long-standing promise to something far more evil than what lurks in the basement of the Dagmar house.
Now, if you're at all a fan of Italian horror, you'll know exactly where this film is going just from reading that synopsis. WE ARE STILL HERE is a rather obvious love letter to Lucio Fulci's THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. It even includes a few Lovecraft references (that “university over in Essax County” would be the Miskatonic), a whole subplot lifted from THE WICKER MAN, and a few nods to newer horror films, especially THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. And therein lies the problem. For all its Fulci references, explosive gore, and haunted house cliches like possession and seances, the real heart of the film is rooted in a human drama dealing with loss, grief and the need for emotional closure. Those two narrative threads, the human and the horror, clash constantly during the films running time.
There isn't a single moment in this film where the narrative feels comfortable with itself. There isn't a single moment when all these individual strands of story coalesce into something actually meaningful. It's a Frankenstein's Monster built of disparate elements that are given constantly shifting priority as the film goes on. That leads to some rather shockingly inept lapses in logic. There are moments when the film just stops making sense altogether, as if the writing was done on the spot, with whole scenes just sutured together in an attempt to fill some kind of arbitrary quota of stock horror and drama tropes. There is a complete lack of a through line here. As the film tumbled towards its bloody, gore-filled finale, I found myself wondering just how the hell we even got to this point. I was missing some sense of logical narrative progression.
Watching the film a second time only made the stone skipping nature of the narrative all the more evident. It felt that at one point, all of this was well thought out and worked as a whole, but instead of us seeing the big picture and getting all the information, we're just skipping along the surface of a narrative that made sense, stopping only long enough to jump a dozen or so pages ahead. I could fill the remaining space of this review just asking questions about the how and why of virtually every character's motivation or on-screen event and it would not be nitpicking. WE ARE STILL HERE has major, unmistakable problems. You don't need to look hard to spot them.
And honestly, the crashing down of this house of cards really bummed me out because there is so much great stuff going on in this film. I loved the look and feel of it. It's rare to find a haunted house film shot primarily in broad daylight. The bleak setting, just snow as far as the eye can see, adds this tangible feeling of isolation and hopelessness. The acting is above par, only let down by the stiff dialogue (it's amusing to watch one balding man in his 50s call another balding man in his 50s “old man”) and the sparse, moody soundtrack adds an immeasurable amount of dread to nearly every scene. The ghosts are creepy, CGI enhanced wonders to behold. Real, genuine nightmare fuel.
But then comes the splatter. Then comes the ridiculousness. Then comes the forced sentimentality and the tired possession scene, and all the good will and promise the film built up during its great first 20 minutes just goes right out the window. I wanted to love this film, but it just wouldn't stop tripping over its own two feet. This could have been better. It SHOULD have been better.
But it just isn't.