As far as found footage goes, GHOSTWATCH sits up high, reigning supreme.
This comes as one of the better adaptations of a King story, bringing along with it some fun, frightening terror, as one man's memories become a haunted house in a creepy hotel room.
The Inhabitants. 2015. Directed/Written by Michael & Shawn Rasmussen.
Starring Elise Couture, Michael Reed, India Pearl, Vasilios Asimakos, Danny Bryck, Judith Chaffee, Erica Derrickson, Edmund Donovan, Victoria Nugent, and Rebecca Whitehurst. Lascaux Media/Sinister Siblings Films. Unrated. 90 minutes.
A few weeks back, one half of the filmmaker duo the Rasmussen Brothers (writers of John Carpenter’s The Ward) contacted me in regards to their new film The Inhabitants. Now available on VOD, the Rasmussen Bros were kind enough to give me the Vimeo link and password to watch the movie ahead of time. Only now getting around to it – busy man here – I must say, the depressingly low rating on IMDB is exactly that: depressing. Now, to start, I don’t go by what IMDB tells me; it’s a site I use, I rate things on my own scale to try and balance so many of the unfair ratings of decent to good (sometimes to great) films. However, it’s not something I gauge films by, as I leave that to my own sensibilities and taste. There are, yes, certain aspects of film you can objectively look at and say “This is well done” or “This is bad”, yet so much of how we experience any art, film included, is entirely subjective. You’ll never separate yourself entirely from the subjective part of your mind because in all your opinions you’re coming from some place, a location. I always keep that in mind with my reviews and ratings, so should you if you’re reading mine or anyone else’s opinion on a film – I recognize my reviews are from a subjective place.
That being said, The Inhabitants is not a great film. Though, it has some really great aspects. Not breaking any fresh ground particularly, the Rasmussen Bros do create a pretty decent aesthetic from their use of the camera itself to the nice spooky sound design. Perhaps a meatier plot would’ve done the film well – it feels a lot like the skeleton is there, the story itself, just not enough actual plot points other than vague elements through which the characters allowed to walk. Still, I found this indie haunted house-style movie effective in terms of its mood and the generally solid atmosphere of creepiness the filmmakers were able to build from start to finish.
When Jessica (Elise Couture) and Dan (Michael Reed) purchase a quaint little bed and breakfast in the New England countryside, it seems like the American Dream – idyllic forest and sprawling landscapes. Then they start to find problems, such as the nagging legend of a witch and the strange occurrences happening throughout the old house.
In the beginning, even the weird moments Jessica experiences aren’t too threatening. Slowly as the couple get acclimated to the bed and breakfast, its surroundings, the nearby Witch Museum, it is painfully clear the house’s own history is much darker, more terrible than any real estate agent would ever be willing to admit.
What I do enjoy about The Inhabitants is the aesthetic overall. The sound design itself adds a wonderful layer of spookiness. There’s no score so much as there are a few small pieces, plus a ton of the sound design in terms of very dark, brooding and destabilizing sounds; it puts you on an edge, even if there’s nothing exactly threatening or sinister happening the at times dark ambient noise in the background makes everything feel uneasy.
Something which makes the sound design better and more effective is how the Rasmussen Bros don’t opt for a bunch of jump scares in order to spook us. Yes, there are some in there, but it’s not a relied upon method the director-writer pair are interested in exploiting. I love a good jump scare, if it’s properly done and doesn’t become a trope within one movie itself; nothing worse than a technique overdone, regardless of what it is in the end. So most of what the Rasmussens are able to create here is a genuinely unnerving mood, with the visuals shot pretty beautifully alongside the sound design’s low, creepy swell.
One of my favourite moments come just barely past the 1-hour mark – Dan has this dream, a terrifying image of Jessica comes to him: she’s breastfeeding a small child, then when he gets closer it appears as some dead corpse-like thing, a skull for a face. It’s so brief that it works wonders for the scare factor! Not even a jump scare so much as it’s a quick little WHOA. Very cool and grim stuff.
My only big legitimate problem with The Inhabitants is the plot, as I mentioned earlier. Not that I feel the plot is bad, there just isn’t enough. The bones of the story exist – it isn’t innovative or new, but at least there’s a story in place which could be used to flesh out a scary plot and some decent characterization. Even further, we get bits and pieces of the main characters, who they are, their personalities. Though, I don’t feel as if there’s enough of Jessica or Dan to truly care and become involved in their personal plight. Ultimately, issue being, in all the wandering of the characters – through the darkness of the house, et cetera – the screenplay wanders about a great deal.
The actors do a fairly decent job with their characters – Couture and Reed do a solid job for the most part with the two leads. It’s simply a problem of character. Sure, we get lots of nice stuff happening as the house sort of takes hold over Jessica in particular. There’s even a part earlier when she finds a sonogram, a few little clever lines thrown in without too much overt and talky exposition. However, none of it pays off in the right sense. The characters aren’t dull, I just wish we could’ve gotten more of a sense about who these two were before the plot of the film begins. As it stands, they’re just two people in a haunted house being affected by all its eeriness, like there’s no way to gauge how the effects are running wild on them because all we get really is a look at the post-haunting couple. But I’ve got to make it clear, I think the Rasmussen Bros do well with the characterization and plot present by at least not going hard on the exposition. Too many films, horror specifically, try to heavy hand the dialogue in and let you know EVERY LITTLE THING THAT IS HAPPENING/HAS HAPPENED, and then there’s absolutely no mystery left. At the very least, the screenplay keeps an air of intrigue instead of hamfisting the plot and story down our esophagus. There are pieces which go nowhere, there are also no pieces where I felt a few morsels ought to bed. Overall, I’m just glad that – while too overly vague at times – the writing isn’t completely spoon fed to the viewer, and the writer-director brothers still try to leave some of the legwork to their audio/visual aesthetic.
I’m not going to be a pessimist about this film and say it’s no good at all; it is good. There are some excellent things happening and I feel, as directors, the Rasmussen Brothers know how to properly create a sense of dread, an atmosphere full of creepy, spooky mood and tone. This is, to me, a 3 out of 5 star film. Definitely could use more work on the plot itself, I would’ve been even more impressed with this independent horror movie if the writer brothers cultivated better characters. Still, the acting wasn’t typically atrocious like a lot of indie horror, and the palpable atmosphere from the first scene right to the last is enough to keep you glued. Plenty of gorgeously dark imagery and the house/the forest is captured visually with such eeriness it’s hard to deny. With a little more work, though, the Rasmussen Brothers are on their way to making really solid horror movies. I hope they’ll keep it up.
We Are Still Here. 2015. Directed by Ted Geoghegan. Written by Ted Geoghegan & based on a concept by Richard Griffin. Starring Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, and Larry Fessenden. Dark Sky Films. Unrated. 84 minutes. Horror.
3.5 out of 5 stars
I’m a big fan of horror, big fan of Barbara Crampton, so naturally I was excited when I heard We Are Still Here would be an old school haunted house style outing with her as a main character. And while it isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, it’s a head above most modern horror. Not to mention there are excellent moments of horror and also fun, interesting characters, which help remind us of the 1980s without trying too hard for nostalgia.
Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) are moving into the countryside of New England to an old house where they plan on starting over. The move is brought on by the death of their teenage son. Unfortunately, once they arrive at the house things begin to get strange. An old couple seem to have more than just genuine interest in them, and the house makes Anne feel as if there are spirits living there, as if she can feel their son within the walls. As the house’s history literally haunts the new tenants, Paul and Anne must figure out how to stop it, or at the least – how to make it out alive.
In general, I thought this was a fairly solid horror effort. The directing is sharp. Ted Geoghegan has done a fine job crafting the film into something partly fresh, partly old, but one that is certainly full of atmosphere and packs a nice little jab in some of the creepier moments.
Immediately I’ll start with the two small pieces of We Are Still Here I did not particularly enjoy.
First, there’s a death that I found beyond tired and played out – I won’t describe it fully, but it comes once the house starts taking victims. A character gets out of the house, into a car, and seemingly away from the evil… only to be surprised down the road, as a ghost is hiding in the backseat. My initial problem is that once the character got out, I thought “okay this is going to go a different way than most other films that use this type of scene”. It went exactly how I expected. That’s fine sometimes, my problem with this is that it sort of tosses the movie’s own ghost logic out the window – if the ghosts can leave the house, why do they need to wait until someone moves in to wake up every 30 years and take souls? This made me wonder.
Second, I didn’t like how the ghosts looked. They were kind of generic, the look wasn’t too terrifying or anything. Maybe that’s the way they needed to look because of the story, I get that. There are just certain films, which aren’t necessarily bad, where the ghosts or monsters [or whatever they are] don’t look scary like they ought to, but again – this look was mostly in part due to how the people died that eventually show up as ghosts, so I can’t exactly fault the effects. I just didn’t find them super effective in the end.
Now, on to what I did enjoy. The performances were fantastic. You can pretty much bet your ass Barbara Crampton will give a good performance if she’s given a good script. I thought Crampton did a spectacular job ranging between the normal grief we feel and then all those supernatural feelings some get when confronted with death. I thought Crampton and Andrew Sensenig had great chemistry. Sensenig played an excellent character; little bits of his old-fashionedness came out with his remarks about women drivers and all those foolish yet harmless jabs. This really set up the idea that the husband was a much more skeptical type of person, very old-fashioned and set in his ways, which contrasted with Crampton. Then of course there’s the wonderful pairing of Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden as the New Age couple May and Jacob Lewis. They each did well, but Fessenden is always a treat. I love him as a director and even more as an actor – he always has a fun little part to play whether it’s in his own movies, someone else’s, or even on the FX comedy Louie. Marie and Fessenden were perfect as the binary opposite of Crampton and Sensenig. And once the story gets crazier, Fessenden really has a few good scenes to chew apart. Overall, if the acting were bad this film would not have succeeded. However, these four really were great, and the supporting characters were also played nicely.
The best part of We Are Still Here, for me, is the atmosphere and general feel Geoghegan conjures up with a lot of well-crafted cinematography, editing, and tone. Even the final shot of the film, as one character stands in a doorway looking to the basement, reminds me of an older movie. The atmosphere definitely has that retro-feel, but as opposed to other movies which try hard to get that across I think Geoghegan’s is a much more natural feel. The house itself has a lot to do with that, it’s a great little place in the country and there’s an ever-present nostalgia in it; reminds me of a cabin in the rural part of Newfoundland where I’m from, a lot of those places almost feel like houses out of time, stuck in the 1970s and 1980s when they were first built. So I think some of the throwback feel Geoghegan wrings out of the film comes organically.
Another of my favourite parts is how the film centers on an older couple. There are a couple younger characters in the film, but this is almost entirely about the characters of Anne and Paul, and what they were going through after their son’s death. So many modern horrors, even the ones trying to pose as retro, are entirely based on characters who are millenials – I’m one myself, born just after the end of the so-called Generation X – and that is honestly tiring. Young people aren’t the only ones who love horror; plenty of horror fans out there grew up in the ’70s/’80s when horror really had some balls, innovation, and a hell of a lot of ideas. So, I think Geoghegan’s film is great on that level because we get to see a story, while typical, yet instead of a bunch of young people in their late teens/early twenties being killed for 84 minutes we’ve got more of a mature look at something so familiar. It doesn’t offer much new, but does give a different perspective on the haunted house for a generation getting so used to drivel like Paranormal Activity.
This is definitely a 3.5 out of 5 star film. It was refreshing to watch. Like I said, it isn’t necessarily a brand new take on the haunted house sub-genre of horror. However – I really enjoyed it. The couple small beefs I had with the movie aren’t enough to ruin the whole experience. Crampton and Sensenig did a solid job together, and Fessenden really livened things up during the middle part of the film. Geoghegan has a knack for creating atmosphere and setting a specific tone, so I hope to see something new from him sooner than later. We Are Still Here is, for all its faults, one of the better haunted house films to come along in the last decade. I can confidently say that, even with the problems I had. Check it out on VOD, or if it’s in theatre anywhere near you get out and take the chance. I don’t think you’ll regret spending the time to watch it, and you might find a creep or two just for you lurking in there somewhere.