TAD 2013 Review: We Are What We Are
We Are What We Are is an English reimagining of the Mexican film of the same (translated) name, “Somos lo que hay”. Directed by Jim Mickle and co-written by Mickle and Nick Damici, We Are What We Are takes a cannibal family, does some gender swapping with the original characters and places them in rural upstate New York. What follows is a dark and haunting story about escaping or embracing tradition.
When Mrs. Parker passes away, the duties of the house fall to her eldest daughter Iris. These include the cooking and cleaning, but also the murder and preparation of sacrificial victims to feed a cannibalistic ritual dating back to the time of the settlers. Only the town’s local doctor suspects that there is something more than random about the disappearances that plague their town, especially given that one of the missing was his own daughter. The doctor investigates their long-buried secret, while Iris’ sister Rose comes to hate their terrible ways and looks for a way out. What follows is twisted, disturbing, grotesquely funny.
The casting for the girls was superb and the writers were wise to rely so heavily on their skills at relaying emotion subtly. Julia Garner as Rose in particular deserves acclaim for her work here. The father character is little more than a “crazy religious backwoods-type”, but Bill Sage still managed to bring him to life. Keep an eye out for a nearly-unrecognizable Kelly McGillis, playing a great nosy neighbor. My favourite casting choice though was Michael Parks as the tragedy-struck doctor. The last thing I saw him in was Red State, and seeing him play the calm and logical man of science opposite a religious zealot was amusing and very well done.
The film does a good job of avoiding most of the obvious horror tropes, until the ending. After all of the carefully built up tension and understated character action, it could have stood up as a very fine drama with horror elements, and do well with a wider audience. However the finale devolved into a squicky gorefest that was a disservice to all the groundwork laid. Apparently they’d gone through a number of potential endings, each more ridiculous than the last, before settling on what made it into the final cut. I personally think they should have kept looking for something else, to better honour the characters and story that they had worked so hard to develop. It has received some very divisive reviews at film festivals abroad, including a simultaneous standing ovation/sound booing. I think We Are What We Are will get relegated to the horror section and disappear, and that is a shame as it is a very worthy film.