Ted Geoghegan has been involved in the horror film genre for the past decade as a writer and producer. We Are Still Here marks his first feature in the director's chair. Already a big hit with film festivals the world over as well as sites such as this one, the film is finally released in the UK on Monday 19th October. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to speak with Ted about the film...
We Are Still Here changes gears around the half way mark. There's a nice, very atmospheric build up then all of a sudden there is a sort of very different shift to it...
Yeah it’s um, you know making that big switch in the film totally was a decision that I came up with very early on. I really want the first act of the movie to be really quiet. I want it to feel like a very slow melodrama about two depressed people and when the character of Jacob and May arrived at the beginning of the second act they kinda breathe some life into the movie... then all of a sudden you got these two kind of loveable sweet characters who are actually embracing life rather than dismissing it and then when you know you hit the sail on which is kinda the beginning of the third act that’s when you know the shits hit the fan and everything goes wild. I definitely wanted to show it as a natural progression but at the same if you were watching in the first five minutes of the movie and the last five minutes of the movie you really feel like two completely different movies but the journey to get some from the beginning to the end ultimately I feel also that ending it deserved you know, we don’t pull it out of nowhere.
One of the things I like about horror films is the idea of good people doing bad things for good reasons which is kind of like the position the people of this town find themselves in, don't they?
Absolutely, I’m really glad that you pick up on that. That something I really wanted to drive home throughout the entire movie is that there are truly no characters in the film acting out of malice, acting out of evil intentions. Every one genuinely believed that what they are doing is for the best. The town wants to save itself, they’re scared, they’re trapped by this dark presence, you know, the Dagmar family - they were wronged horribly and the townsfolk had put incredible injustice upon them so of course they are upset. But of course again, they are not acting out of malice, they are acting out almost of their own fear and aggression towards these people who done something wrong. So I really wanted to drive that home, that everyone in the zone are victims.
One of the things that drives that point home is the end credit sequence, it draws some sympathy out of you back towards the townsfolk, you can see what they’ve been through over the years...
Yeah, you start to realize that this quiet little town ever since they tried to do something nice and sold the house to this local mortician, they been cursed and they been forced to do this terrible things decade after decade. The end of credits, just gonna drive that home a little bit more. Weirdly enough we had originally intended for those to be the opening credits. The more we thought about it the more it sort of gave too much away upfront and that the thought was purposely caved in ambiguous. It’s a love letter to a lot of the 1970’s that I grew up of watching. That hopefully will leave you with more questions than answers at the end of the film and I felt like that by placing those newspapers at the beginning of the film we’re giving too much away like the audience might understand that the actions of the characters in the film, would it be better if those credits to be in the beginning. But I don’t want people to understand the actions of the characters I wanted to be a fair amount of ambiguity in what they’re doing, is it right, is it wrong, who is good, who is bad etc. Those end credits don’t really answer everything but they fill in some of the blanks andfor those who are quite eager, there are some pretty good clues in there.
You mention that you were influenced by the 70’shorror films which brings me onto the film's setting in terms ofdecade because you’re very careful not tobe too anachronistic...
There’s no point giving the year that the film takes place in, it’s completely ambiguous for all its intents and purposes. It set in 1979 but we wanted to craft it visually in a way that people would not be aware of that initially and hopefully in a way that feel so timeless that a person going into the film without any knowledge of it whatsoever could actually watch a fair portion of the movie before realizing that it is a period piece and I think that's very important. Sam Raimi, when making Evil Dead have that intention as well. He chose a car that was old even for the year they were shooting the movie, its set in a nondescript cabin. The characters are all wearing common t-shirts or button ups, there’s nothing that makes you realize when it was all set and you know it sort of makes the film feel more timeless. We had a similar idea with this film. Of course once we really get into nitty gritty the house itself, its quite clear that not set in modern timesbut it felt right not set it in an ultra, stylised version of the past. The last thing we want is the film tolook like That 70’s show. The atmosphere that I am trying to recapture inside thehouse, I had photos of my Grandmother’s house from my youth and I brought those over and said this is what I want it to look like, to feel like. I am more about the color scheme in Harold and Maude, subdued earth tones like browns and oranges can say so much as to when this film was set and who this characters are, by just using those colorsthan you can with 70’s car and big lapels you know?
Another thing that helps with timeless quality is that your characters are more mature than the average movie protagonist...
Completely, the idea was it was a film about mature people making adult decision even if those decisions are wrong. Again the genre films that I grew up watching ,so much of it starred adults. Before the slasher craze in the early 80’s, when comedy and horror films' characters age dropped so drasticallyand became about drugs, sex and rock n’ roll. Really if you look at from the dawn of horror, the Universal greats and through the hammer films these are all headlined by Bela Legosi, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee - these are adults, these are not stupid kids being scared. The idea of having a film where all the leads are in their 50’s and the antagonist is in his 80’s really appealed to me because... I miss that from modern films. I miss the smart characters you can cheer on with their decisions instead of admonishing them for their stupid behaviour.
Let's talk about the casting. Two names for me stood out in particular. The first was Barbara Crampton, because I can remember her from Stuart Gordon's classics, Reanimator and From Beyond, but also Larry Fessenden, an actor I kinda stumbled across recently in the excellent Jugface. He seems a really quirky guy.
I am very close friends both Barbara and Larry, and had written the roles of Anne and Jacob for them, never actually knowing whether I'd get them both. So I feel extremely lucky to get the actors who I'd written the parts explicitly for! This was my feature film debut, so it was very reassuring to have people around me who I knew and trusted, and who knew and trusted me. Both Barbara and Larry come from such haughty backgrounds in terms of the horror films they've been part of - as you mentioned, Barbara from Reanimator, From Beyond, Chopping Mall - all these fun horrors from the 1980s, and Larry who's been crafting this incredible niche for himself as a literal jack of ALL trades in the horror genre, with the 90's with Habit and No Telling, through to the newer stuff he's doing with Glass Eye Pictures as a producer, director and writer - it's really incredible.
So having them there meant a lot but the other actors, who we got through more traditional casting methods. For example Andrew Sensenig, who plays Paul - I'd completely fallen in love with him watching him in Upstream Color, which was what made me say, that's our Paul. And Lisa Marie, who I'd grown up having a crush on from her appearances in Tim Burton's films, like Mars Attacks and Sleepy Hollow, and Ed Wood where she plays Vampira...having all these people on my set, who all have these incredible horror genre backgrounds, helped fill me with a lot of excitement.
Another actor who really stands out is Monte Markham (who plays Dave McCabe) - when we first meet him, it reminded me of a scene in Paranormal Activity with the medium - Dave seems really uncomfortable being in the house. But then the next scene you see him in, it's like "Oh my God! What's going on?" It's such a huge turn of events!
Absolutely. Monty was such a joy. He's been acting longer than my father has been alive! It's incredible to think of how many movies and tv shows he's been a part of over the years. When he walked onto the set, it was like the air was sucked out of the room. Everyone was just in awe of him. He has this booming voice and he immediately understood the tone we were going for. Dave is this simple sort of man who ultimately is responsible for the well being not only of this town but possible the whole world. It's turned him into this bitter, nasty guy who can hide it behind the smile but ultimately he's clearly our antagonist.
My last question: you used a lot of practical special fx in the film - was there any aspect of that that was particularly challenging to pull off?
I used an fx team out of Florida called Oddtopsy, and I'd worked with them for over a decade and I can genuinely npt say enough good things about them. They are a top of the line fx team and we threw some really wild ideas at them and they created them without any issue whatsoever. Its really quite incredible to say that all of those practical gore gags you see in the film were all done in one take. And that's a real testament to having a team who can land exactly what someone wants right away. The most complex gag we did was when a particular character gets shotgunned in the face- we wanted to splatter all over the camera without damaging it - in fact we challenged the to go as wild as possible with that shot, and the director of photography who was behind the camera at the time ended up covered from head to toe!
Many thanks to Ted for his time talking with us, and to Sadari at Fetch.fm for facilitating the interview.
We Are Still Here is released on DVD and Blu Ray on 19th October. You can read our review of the film HERE.