Maggie is holed up inside her home as the outside world faces an invasion of an unknown threat. No one has left their homes since it all began but Maggie can hear the ominous presences outside.
She attempts to make radio contact, desperate for any human presence after the rest of her family has disappeared. But when she finally reaches someone, she realizes the outside threat may be coming inside.
Written and directed by Justin Suttles, this short horror thriller generates tension by an exceptional command of craft, meticulously building up an atmosphere of unknown dread to create an experience of cold, clammy fear.
The dramatic set-up gives us just enough information to understand that whatever happening outside is dangerous. Is it an alien invasion? Military takeover? Some kind of nuclear or other catastrophic mishaps? We don’t quite know and neither does Maggie — she only knows that whatever is out there has taken away all her loved ones and she is alone.
Like many genre films, excellent camera and cinematography, along with beautifully designed soundscapes, come together to build up atmosphere, tension and dread, focusing on sensory experience over narrative detail. It puts us in Maggie’s headscape, as she gets in contact with someone over the radio and finds some relief for her loneliness and fear. Actor Catherine Atkinson offers a vivid, compelling performance as Maggie, finding rhythms of both hope and fear and evoking the longings that extreme isolation can bring.
But as she navigates the growing threat from the outside, the attentive editing and pacing allow us to follow Maggie’s thought process as she attempts to make sense of what is happening. We hear ominous sounds; we sense something’s movements. The filmmaking builds these moments with exquisite, effective discernment, and it always returns to Maggie, anchoring viewers in her thoughts and feelings. The pacing remains deliberate, but as the storytelling builds to a heart-pounding climax, the film does something not often seen in modern thriller and horror: it slows down, instead of speeding up at its height, creating an unforgettable, heart-in-the-throat point of suspense where one simple action takes on a potentially explosive weight.
Filmed during the recent global pandemic with a pared-down cast and crew, “I’m Still Here” takes on classic psychological horror territory, capitalizing on how human beings can imbue the unknown with our deepest phobias, paranoias and amorphous yet wide-spreading fear. We may never quite know what terrorizes Maggie’s world, but the film doesn’t seem interested in that. Instead, it takes time to explore the experience of isolation, loss and how badly we crave the interaction of others — something many of us recently experienced during the pandemic, which may give the film a certain emotional resonance. The moment of relief for Maggie doesn’t come from blocking out the threat but discovering that the fragile tether to another person still holds. It’s not enough just to make it through strife and trauma; we need something to return to, to feel truly safe and comforted.