Directed by: Jim Mickle.
Written by: Nick Damici & Jim Mickle based on the screenplay by Jorge Michel Grau.
Starring: Bill Sage (Frank Parker), Ambyr Childers (Iris Parker), Julia Garner (Rose Parker), Jack Gore (Rory Parker), Kelly McGillis (Marge), Wyatt Russell (Deputy Anders), Michael Parks (Doc Barrow).
We Are What We Are is perhaps the most subdued horror film about a backwoods family of religious fundamentalist cannibals you will ever see – and I mean that mostly a good way. The film is a remake of a 2011 Mexican film (unseen by me) and it is one of the oddest horror movies of the year. Those looking for bloody and guts will probably have to look elsewhere – yes, the film gets bloody at times, but this is a film more about atmosphere than anything else. It casts a strange spell over the audience – if you allow it to.
The Parker family has always been a little weird – outsiders in their small, rural town that most people steer clear of, which is how they like it. The film opens with them losing their mother, which sends their father Frank (Bill) into a little bit of an emotional tailspin. The family has an annual ritual that normally the mother has prepare for, and now that responsibility falls upon the two oldest children – Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner). They both agree that they don’t want to partake in this particular, gruesome family tradition anymore – but they don’t have much of a choice this year. It’s too late to turn back, and doing so could risk their family. They’ll get through this year – if for no other reason than to help their younger brother Rory (Jack Gore), a sweet, freckle faced, innocent.
Their rural town is experiencing massive rains and floods. The flood drudges up something that the Parkers wish it hadn’t. Doc Barrow (Michael Parks at his Michael Parks-iest) is still grieving the disappearance of his daughter years before. When he’s rooting around in the water, he finds what he thinks may be a human bone. The Sheriff thinks he’s crazy, but Doc convinces a young deputy (Wyatt Russell) to search for more – although considering the area is around the Parkers, and he clearly has a crush on Iris, he may have ulterior motives.
You can probably tell where the movie is going with this plot description – and in the broadest strokes, you would be right. But that wouldn’t really describe what it’s like to watch the movie. This movie is all about atmosphere – the gray, forbidding sky, the old, ramshackle house the family lives in, the seemingly constant misery of everyone in the movie – they move gives off a sense of dread from the beginning, and gets darker as it moves along. The performances get on the right wavelength as well. Sage, as Frank Parker, alternates between shock, sadness and rage – but even his rages are more subdued than typical horror movie stuff – and all the more disturbing because of it. The two teenage girls – played very well by Childers and Garner – are, like Stephen King’s Carrie, stuck between the warped religion they were raised in, and their desire to be “normal” teenagers.
The ending of the film comes out of nowhere, and yet, oddly fits. It is a reversal of what we think we know, but we probably should be expecting it from the title. Directed by Jim Mickle, who made the decent, little seen vampire apocalypse film Stakeland a few years ago, We Are What We Are confirms that he is a talent to watch. We Are What We Are is slow – perhaps a little too slow, giving how simple it’s plot is, but it has style to burn, and when the blood finally does get spilled in the film, it feels earned – not just there for shock’s sake, but because that’s the only place the movie could possibly have been heading all along.