We Are Still Here: The horror of believing might is right
When Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) move into an old house in a small New England town, they get more than they bargained for. Turns out, the place is haunted by the family that used to live there. That’s the premise of We Are Still Here, the new film from written and directed by Ted Geoghegan. The horror movie was a hit at South by Southwest. Geoghegan recently phoned us to talk about the film arriving in theaters and on VOD on June 5.
How exactly did you become a slasher and exploitation movies expert?
Oh my god, who wrote that? That’s a good question. I’ve grown up loving horror movies. I grew up in rural Montana. There wasn’t a whole to do. It became my escape from the monotony of rural Montana. I found they were a fun way to leave reality for a few hours. In those early impressionable years, it’s easy to get obsessed with something rather quickly. I soaked up far more knowledge about horror and exploitation than any sane person probably should have.
Talk about how you initially came up with the idea for the movie?
The film started out several years ago with a simple concept that was to write what was basically a take on a horror film called The House by the Cemetery. It’s a film I quite love from a director named Lucio Fulci. It’s a movie I always really enjoyed. A collaborator at the time was interested in creating a loose take on it. We came up with the concept of grieving parents moving into a spooky old house and discovering that there’s a presence in the home that’s much more malevolent than they first thought it was.
Where did you find such a creepy old house?
The house was actually the last cast member to be cast. It’s a major character in the film. We got to the filming location and still didn’t have the house. Thankfully, my producer had previously shot a film in the area and reached out to several church groups. Shockingly, one of the pastors reached out to his congregation and a member had gorgeous old house. When we got there, I was floored. It was the house from the script. When I asked him what year the house was built he told me 1859 which is the exact year the house in the film was built. The pastor himself is quite the character. He preaches out of a MMA ring and encourages parishioners to beat the crap out of each other. There’s a documentary about him called Fight Church. The pastor, his wife and his 10-year-old daughter are all in the film as well. We gave them extra roles.
What was it like to create the burned creatures and what special effects were used?
The Dagmar family, who are the ghosts — a mother, a father and a little girl — are a fantastical presence in the film. They’re these people from the 1800s who were burned to death and are still haunting the home. They still have hair and even though they’re ghosts they’re still a physical presence. They’re not see-through. The idea was to come up with something creepy and unreal but also had a fantasy element and was outside of the boundaries of what one thinks of when one thinks of a ghost. Oddtopsy FX based on out of Florida handled the effects. The head of the company is a dear friend of mine who I have worked with on numerous films over the years. When it came time to direct my first feature, I knew I needed him on board because he was someone I could trust from top to bottom. The first few days took quite a while but we could get them in and out of their makeup in about 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the evening. We consider that pretty fast in the effects world.
How challenging was it to film the movie’s climax?
The film turns it into a bloodbath and a home invasion movie which is very atypical for a haunted house film. We wanted to do something exciting and out of left field as well as something that pays off the tension that has been building. We brought in a lot of extras from town. A lot of them were churchgoers. Everyone was eager to be a part of it. It was a very small town where we shot the film. For a lot of people, it was their first experience on a film set. The people took direction really well and they were really excited. They just gave it their all. It was extremely stressful but also really rewarding. All the main actors come from a film background. They knew their way around. They knew exactly what to do.
What were you trying to do with the music and soundtrack?
The score is by a Polish composer by the name of Wojciech Golczewski. He came recommended by some of the producers. He had scored a film for them. We delivered him a near-final cut of the film and he knew exactly what we were going for. We wanted the score to be subdued and almost like sound design. The idea was that the score would accentuate rather than dominate a scene. He knew what to do and every scene he could come up with specific scores and stings that accentuate those moments and highlight the tension. He also came up with specific themes for certain characters. There’s a Dagmar theme, and when the family senses the presence of the dead son, when they sense the presence of Bobby, there’s a Bobby scene. The sound design was done at Anarchy Post in Los Angeles. They were incredible. They knew what we were going for. In order to create a minimalist sound design, you have to do a lot of work. It takes a lot of sound to make it sound like there’s no sound. They were clever and came up with interesting ideas for the home. There’s almost a deafening silence when characters are inside the house. We do have creaks and noises you typically hear in an old house or think you hear in an old house. For our outdoor sequences, they created gorgeous design for the wind and snow to help show how agonizingly cold it was.
Was it really winter?
Yes. The film was shot in February of last year in a town called Shortsville outside of Rochester, New York. The high was 26 degrees over the course of five weeks. It was ridiculously cold. The house has these two small wood burning stoves. That was the only heat in the entire house. When you were inside the house, it was a balmy 55 degrees, which felt like a heat wave when compared to the temperature outside. We got used to being very good.
Was that a really bar?
It’s a real burger joint and taphouse in Shortsville. We were scouting for a bar to use and went into it early on. We met the owner, Buffalo Bill himself, and he thought we were punking him. We convinced him that we were legit and they were really excited. They let us do a lot of design. It was very modern. They were extremely accommodating and let us remove all the TVs and neon and everything that made it look like a modern establishment. We also put Bill and his wife in the bar. It’s a real place with real people.
Talk about mob mentality and what interests you about that?
The idea behind the film is that no one believes they are a villain. They all believe that what they are doing is for the best even when those decisions involve violence. At the end of the film, there area a lot of people who think they’re doing the right thing. That’s an idea that I really enjoy and I also find very terrifying. It felt appropriate in this film. It felt appropriate given the fact that this is a very mature cast. The central characters are in their mid-fifties and our antagonist is in his eighties. They’re a little world weary and they’re not dumb kids. They’re making what they believe to be smart decisions. At the end of the film, they go up against another group of people, also adults, who also feel like they’re making the right decision and all hell breaks loose.