“It’s been 30 years since we’ve had fresh souls in the Dagmar house… “
It’s winter in Maine. The holidays are only just behind us, so there’s some residual good cheer, the fading heat as the embers cool in the long dark. January and February stretch out in front of us, long and cold shadows like the ones around my house at 3 in the afternoon. I make it seem darker and colder than it is as a sort of warding, an inoculation against what my Dad calls ‘the big depression.’
Growing up, this time of year was kind of magical, though. The sharp, clear air, the beautiful snow-covered landscapes, even the long nights give some of the clearest views of the stars. The absolute quiet during a snowstorm. That feeling like the whole world has gone to sleep and you’re the only one left to watch over it.
Also the feeling like mother nature has shed her niceness and is trying to kill you in earnest.
We Are Still Here could easily take place where I grew up in Northern Maine. The windswept snow fields, the old houses with creepy fieldstone basements, the wet-eyed stares of the locals when a stranger walks in the bar, the ancient and festering evil… Well, maybe not that last part. MAYBE not.
I mention this because I THINK the opening shots of a cold, February landscape with snow blowing across rural roads, naked, skeletal trees and isolated, hundred year old farmhouses are supposed to be creepy and unsettling. And for me they just made me slightly nostalgic for home (and a little unhappy at the prospect of all the shoveling I’ll still be doing when February actually does roll around).
Streaming on Shudder. It’s also available for Amazon Prime subscribers and can be rented/purchased from the usual digital sources
Sometime in the 1970’s Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) move to a rural house after the death of their only son. Almost immediately Anne can feel a presence in the house, and she’s convinced it’s the spirit of their son, Bobby. She’s right, there IS something in the house. But it’s not Bobby, or at least it’s not ONLY Bobby.
We’ve seen this sort of thing before, of course. The grieving couple, the haunted house. It’s handled well, for all the familiarity, and you almost feel the ache from Anne as she goes through her son’s things as well as the desperate stab of hope when something tosses Bobby’s old baseball down the stairs to her. The cold, winter light, rambling halls and eerie fieldstone basement (with obligatory hole in the wall) are all disconcerting and help build a sense that something is weird and off.
The blackened ghosts, trailing sparks and reaching out with burning hands help with that too.
A visit from their neighbors, Dave and Cat, reveals that the house has a dark and tragic history. It was once a funeral home, you see, built in the 1800s by the Dagmar family. The Dagmars were run out of town when it was discovered that they had been selling the bodies and burying only empty caskets.
Anne – undeterred by a warning from Cat to leave – invites her friends May (Lisa Marie) and Jacob (Larry Fessenden) up to the house. May is a bit of a medium, and Anne hopes that she’ll be able to help them contact Bobby, who she still believes is in the house with them.
You can see where this is going. Séances out of control, ghosts possessing people, dogs and cats living together… It’s familiar.
And then it all gets pulled out from under you with one shotgun blast (off screen). Nothing is quite what it seems in this town. Darker secrets are afoot than mere corpse desecration or even vengeful ghosts. What starts out as a standard haunted house movie veers sharply into Lovecraft territory with a stop in gore-town along the way.
The third act of the film is a distinct tonal shift that treads dangerously close to being too much. In fact, for me it stuck a few toes over that line and I found myself laughing at some of the – incredibly over the top – gore sequences. I wasn’t expecting to see a man’s torso explode out at me like a swinging door of intestines.
The big revelation in watching this film again is in how good Barbara Crampton is in it. I think of her primarily as a scream queen, a welcome but not particularly deep presence in gory films like Re-Animator, but she’s really good in this, her Anne being a grounded and believably grieving character. It makes me wish she did more straightforward dramas – I think she’d be fantastic in them.
The Bottom Line
Despite the tonal shift I liked We Are Still Here a lot. It does creepy well, Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden are always fun to watch, and the gore – as unexpected as it is – is fairly cathartic when it does show up.