Interview: WE ARE STILL HERE Cast On The Joys Of Practical FX And Adult Horror
We Are Still Here has been garnering enthusiastic reviews from its premiere at SXSW and subsequent screenings at Boston Underground Film Festival and the Stanley Film Festival, with other festival screenings to come. The film is currently playing a limited theatre run, and will be available on VOD on June 5th. You can read Peter Martin's original SXSW review here. If you've missed the trailer, you can watch it below.
[Photo above, L-R: Andrew Sensenig, Ted Geoghegan, Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Travis Stevens, Lisa Marie, Karim Hussain. Set photos by Stacy Buchanan / Wicked Bird Media.]
I was able to visit the set in freezing upstate New York in February 2014 and speak to cast members Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Lisa Marie, and Andrew Sensenig.
ScreenAnarchy: Larry, how did you get involved with We Are Still Here?
Larry Fessenden: Ted (Geoghegan, director/writer) just asked me very casually at the bar if I would do it. Of course, I knew the executive producer, Greg Newman. I was excited tha Ted had gotten the green light, because I've known him for some time, and I said sure. Scheduling was a little more dicey, so I came in late to the shoot, but as a result, it was fun to see everyone already comfortable with each other and walk onto set get right into mayhem. We shot out of order, so the first stuff we did was the absolute craziest because we shot out of the house.
There's lots of gore in the story.
Barbara Crampton: Very gory, yeah. I came into the picture last summer; Ted and I have been friends since he did the publicity on You're Next. He sent me the script to ask my opinions on it, and I read it and thought it was great. He said he wanted to to be very gory and almost like a monster movie, like the films I've done with Stuart Gordon. I agreed that it fit, and that his vision was really good. He said, "Well, I actually have you in mind for one of the parts!" And I didn't know that, which was probably better, because actors tend to grab onto things and go "ooh, make this happen! I want those lines!" He said, "I'd really love for you to play the part of Anne and I think I might actually get this movie produced!" A few months later, he called me again and said, "I have the money, Barbara, and we're gonna do the movie!" I said, "That's great! Who's going to direct?" (Because he's been a writer all this time.) He said that he was going to direct, and I was really excited for him. It came together pretty quickly after that, and it's really nice to make a film with someone who's become a friend. It's very comfortable on set. A lot of people know one another in this small horror universe. It feels like we're sitting in our living room making a movie; really cozy and comfortable.
My character lost her son in an accident, and she and her husband Paul come to this new house to try to start a new life. It doesn't really go very well for them. Bad things happen, from their son potentially haunting them to crazy people in town to something lurking in the basement. The movie becomes a wild ride and brings everything together at the end.
Andrew Sensenig: I would comment on that here in Palmyra, we've had some remarkably cold days. The first day we started, the wind was blowing sideways and the wind chill was negative 20 degrees. Barbara and I are filming in the car, and there's no heat in the car. But it fit the film perfectly, the snow, the way the house looks. It even snowed on the right days. We all just pushed through.
Lisa Marie: It's been like a dream for me, since the moment I arrived. Since I arrived, people were coming to my door to introduce themselves and I jumped right in. It's been nonstop for my character. I really love her because she's a hyper-sensitive art child. She's etheral and she feels and sees things. The costumes have been great and I love working with Karim (Hussain, cinematographer/filmmaker), who's incredible. He notices details and the film is really lucky to have him.
I heard there may be a possibility of a prequel or a sequel.
Crampton: That's a rumor I started!
Sensenig: There could absolutely be a sequel and a prequel. I don't want to spoil the film but the way the story is written, it could happen.
Crampton: Right, the way the town is, there could be something pertaining to the house that could be ongoing.
One thing I love about this film is the return to a character-driven story among practical special effects.
Sensenig: The effects team is unreal, with Marcus Koch and Cat Bernier... What you'll see happen and what they did is scary. It's scary when we're watching it, and we know it's fake.
Larry, I saw your head on a table yesterday.
Fessenden: There are a lot of people who want my head!
Crampton: I saw the fake Larry head and I stared at it on the monitor, and then I looked over at him, and said, "Is that... Larry?!"
Fessenden: He's really let himself go!
Crampton: It looked so good! It looked just like you --- it was amazing! There have been some really wonderful effects in this film.
Fessenden: I was here for 15 minutes, then they had me in the chair.
Sensenig: You'll see some new gags that have not graced the horror screen before.
As actors, I imagine it's easier for you to work with practical effects rather than CGI.
Fessenden: Oh yeah. I once had my eye put out by a CGI ice pick. All you're doing is (holds up hands and feigns fright) going, "No, no, no!" It's so much better getting a facial. To have something in front of you so you can react. There are a lot of times where we're wielding weapons and we're wielding real weapons, and I love it. When you pick up a fire axe, you feel that real weight. There's nothing worse than picking up a weapon that feels like a feather and waving it around --- you don't feel the danger. We did a scene where we all felt a little dangerous, and that's my favorite kind of filmmaking style.
Crampton: I did one little stunt---
Sensenig: It's a BIG stunt!
Fessenden: But anything can go wrong. On a bigger set, they switch you out, but you're not engaged in the same way, which is why I prefer this way...
Crampton: A big set would have never allowed Larry to do what he did.
Fessenden: Let's just say I was in such a heightened moment.
Were you possesed by an evil spirit?
Fessenden: We're not telling! That was just a party night.
Crampton: The film really is rooted in a lot of character development and story, how we're feeling internally. It makes all the practical effects around us feel so visceral and real, honest and true.
Sensenig: The four characters are all so different, that I can think the audience will be able to relate. You know someone like Jacob, like May, Paul, and Anne. I think folks will want to cheer for some and not cheer for others.
Fessenden: I think it's fun. In a lot of the scenes, you play them as you would in a dramatic sequence; you're thinking about "how do I help my wife?" Or how to egg on this guy or offer him support. When characters are established well early on, it gives you reason to care about what happens.
Sensenig: And we're old folks, it's cool. This is about people, not a teenage remake of Texas Chainsaw. And that's not bad, but we've seen that so many times.
Being older that what we usually see onscreen these days, you all bring a gravitas to the film. You're not idiots on the CW.
Sensenig: You're absolutely right --- that makes it heightened. Teenagers will watch and think, "They're like my parents. How horrible would it be if they were in that situation? I might argue with my parents, but I don't want them to go through that."