tue 25/06/2024

We Are What We Are | reviews, news & interviews

We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are

Mexican cannibal shocker remade with surprising subtlety

Prime cuts: Rose (Julia Garner) and Iris (Ambyr Childers) look for supper

There aren’t many understated films about cannibal clans. Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are, the Mexican original on which this American remake is based, reeked of despair and depravity, in a tainted Mexico City where a family fed on the homeless. Director Jim Mickle has almost inevitably made a sleaker, less disturbing film. More surprising is just how slow a burn it is.

We know something is wrong with the Parkers: mother Emma (Kassie De Paiva), who falls down and dies hawking up black blood in the first scene, stern, grieving patriarch Frank (Bill Sage), teenage daughters Rose (Julia Garner) and Iris (Ambyr Childers), and innocent little Rory (Jack Gore). But the film is halfway done before dinner is served.

The setting is a depressed upstate New York small town where the rain never stops. The resultant flood-water is loosening long-buried bones and washing them downstream, where old Doc Barrow (Michael Parks), himself mourning his missing teenage daughter, could swear these are human remains.

Up at the Parker house, Ma’s death is causing domestic upheaval, as the surviving family try to take up the slack. With the ceremonial carving and stewing of a woman in their basement larder looming, it’s all go. The teenage girls are under particular strain, forced to take on Ma’s responsibilities before they’re ready. 16-year-old Iris is also feeling adolescent urges for handsome Deputy Anders (Wyatt Russell), while Rose is starting to hate their special dietary requirements, now that they have to do the messy murdering themselves (pictured above). Something, clearly, has got to give. Frank’s mind, most likely, as the cannibalism-related, Parkinson’s-like disease which killed his wife starts to eat at his brain, and make him shake.

This sort of rationalised back-story is where Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici diverge most clearly from the more mysterious, diseased ambience of Grau’s film. They construct a Parker family history going back almost to the War of Independence, when starvation during a harsh winter forces desperate measures. Putting a family friend into the stock-pot is excused as a sacrifice to God, a ritual which gives the Parkers a very particular religion.

Mickle catches a bleak small-town atmosphere very like his own background well, and the cast are excellent, Kelly McGillis’s small part as a friendly neighbour adding to Bill Sage’s experience as sombre, tricksy Frank, pictured left, Michael Parks’s folksy, quietly tortured Doc, and Childers and Garner’s almost normal, subtly feral teens. Mickle’s brave decision to make a horror film that holds back its horror in favour of a low-key, Gothic Catskills soap opera, until a truly Grand Guignol finale, means, though, that the tone doesn’t quite hang together. There’s a sluggish, enervated air to the realistic family scenes, which sits oddly with the blackly comic violence and ultra-gore elsewhere.

This is a strange, in some ways daring film. It’s also another rare item – an honourable, worthwhile remake. It just isn’t realistic or deranged enough to grab you by the throat. Unlike dinner with the Parkers, it leaves you wanting more.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for We Are What We Are

With the ceremonial carving and stewing of a woman in their basement larder looming, it’s all go


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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