We Are Still Here
A chilling sense of isolation and post-crisis contemplation hangs over Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here right from the wonderfully silent opening montage where middle-aged couple Anne and Paul (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) acquaint themselves with their new abode. Even the finale where the satisfyingly restrained film arouses into a full-on horror erection does not quell the tragedy looming over the film, that of the death of Anne and Paul’s college-age son. Prompting their relocation from Boston to a rural New England home that feels like it’s been waiting in repose for decades to torment and consume fresh blood, the couple find that they’re trapped in a throwback horror film. Which means, naturally and expectedly, the metaphoric or emotional ghosts of past tragedy bumping around in their minds are no match for the more literal kind ready to turn the house into a haunted house tour of the town’s past sins, with Anne and Paul as the guests of honor.
Cliched though it be, Geoghegan displays an inimitable eye for negative space and an ear for bowel-churning lurches and ear-perking howls. (Although, admittedly, he’s not truly inimitable, since he is himself doing nothing more than a rinse and repeat on John Carpenter, until he admits Mario Bava to the demon party for the climax). Geoghegan’s laconic pause admits room for droll humor, especially in a mid-film appearance by B-horror perennial candidate Larry Fessenden. Also quite funny is the continual intrusion of an antagonistic sort of town patron saint, equal parts oil and syrup, who continually intimates that the house still belongs to the Dagmar family, burned by the descendants of the town. His low-hummed insinuations feel like a caustic, cheeky rib at the Fred Gwynne harbinger character from Pet Cemetery that South Park loves to trot out from time to time. Here, much like the rest of the film, the character is played with a kind of cruel, cool indifference that serves Geoghegan’s horror bona-fides well without overstepping into winking irony. With a knowing attention paid to austere spaces for the camera to carve shark-like paths through, this is, above all, sincere horror.
Sincere, even when the film ultimately unscrews all of its inhibitions for a mercurial uptick in frenzied pandemonium. The finale, as if expelling the geyser of bodily fluids its been calmly collecting throughout, trades in its low-slung, festering Americana emptiness for a bite and a chew of volatile European maximalism, a climax that is all the more effective for its unstressed, in-and-out, one-and-done nature. The conclusion partially carries the pungent whiff of showing off on Geoghegan’s part, but with his camera expressing its mischievous side and the sound department raising a tantrum of pure blood-curdling terror, the film mulches its spacious slow burn, glazed in a sinister sauce, for something more jam-packed and jostled, a carnival of the damned. It’s exorbitant, no doubt, but it has a Fulci-esque sense of horror as plaything and the cathartic feel of demonic retribution from beyond the grave. Much like the rest of the film, it’s also too elegantly constructed and expedient to overstay its welcome. Unlike many an unwelcome guest of both the ghostly and corporeal variety, Geoghegan knows exactly when to call it quits.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead
Kiah Roache-Turner’s guerrilla-style filmmaking is hardly warfare against cinematic convention, but the free-associative insouciance of the early goings of Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is refreshing in its go-for-broke sense of youthful indiscretion. But while the earlier portions of the film – best described as Mad Max with zombies – see fit to raise some cain without making a fuss about reason, finding purpose in the purposeless, the back-half sidewinds into every cult-objects worst nightmare: backstory, explanation, revelation, or altogether, a “logic”. Or, as we’ve become accustomed to in films that are less smart than they think they are: that particular Damian bastard child of the Golden Age of Television and the rise of nerd culture where the only viable filtration system for quality is introducing a mythos or a back-story into art that is more meaningful the more feral and unexplained it is. Wyrmwood is at its best when it weaponizes its animal instinct to run around and ride the waves of life without stopping to connect the dots of existence under the gods of thesis. Hell hath no fury like a horror film explaining itself.
Until that late-film bid to make sense out of the fundamentally senseless, Wyrmwood brims with enough moxie to fill one hundred rust-bucket, outback-roaming tanks, which would save the characters from having to capture zombies who expel petrol through their breath by day (conveniently leaving the characters stranded in their car during one harrowing night-time sequence). Rather than mythologizing saviors and zombies like some bastard child of The Matrix mistakenly gone down under, this swaggering, whiskey-soaked tale is much more about the humble, low-brow, working-class pleasures of collective effervescence and lobbing off undead heads with your best mate by your side.
Roache-Turner does not particularly have any ideas of his own to bring to the table, but that sense of merry camaraderie – the film was shot largely with his friends on weekends over three years – infuses the piece with a stylish, go-for-broke, even blissful attitude. The heedless head-rush of Tim Nagle’s scrappy, wry camerawork vertiginously inspires this drunken bender of a film to search out new angles from which to film the carnage. The mayhem of the diegeis is inspired by, and permeates into, the very thermodynamics of the camera movement itself.
It is thus a pity that the work is hamstrung by the narrative platitudes it shovels on the fire later on. (Spoiler: explanations pacify rather than kindle a film’s fiery spontaneity, forcing it to wade through a morass of meaning and symbolism that films like these are absolutely not prepared to cope with). Until then, Wyrmwood’s irregular rhythms rhyme without reason and propel it at least partway toward the transcendence in damnation it so obviously prays for.