We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are
We Are What We Are

Format: Cinema

Release date: 28 February 2014

Distributor: Entertainment One

Director: Jim Mickle

Writers: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle

Cast: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Kelly McGillis

Based on the film: Somos lo que hay (Jorge Michel Grau, 2010)

USA 2013

105 mins

Based on the 2010 Mexican film of the same title, Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are is not so much a remake as an entirely new film revolving around the same premise. Jorge Michel Grau’s film was gritty and realistic, with a few staggeringly visceral, gruesome scenes. Through the portrait of a family of cannibals, it hinted at the brutality of survival among Mexico’s poorest, and observed the shifting family dynamics after the death of the father, mixing in intimations of incest and awakening homosexual desires.

Shifting the focus from this man-eat-man social jungle to the unquestioning observance of rigid, archaic beliefs, Mickle places the story within the context of American history, making the family’s cannibalism a twisted practice going back to the hardships of their pioneer ancestors. In so doing, he also switches the gender roles of the original. In Grau’s film, the men were nominally in charge, even though the women were by far the fiercest and most ruthless members of the family. Here, the women are the keepers of the ritual, and when the mother dies, it is up to the delicate, pretty blonde daughters to continue the tradition under the oppressive control of their tyrannical father, with their youth and innocence a shocking contrast to the grim acts they are forced to perform.

Replacing the muscular direction of his post-apocalyptic vampire movie Stake Land with an eerie, dreamy atmosphere bathed in blueish tones, Mickle has fashioned a melancholy American Gothic tale set deep among bleak, misty mountains. Far less brutal and bloody than its Mexican predecessor, the film is surprisingly restrained and eschews showing any gory details until the explosion of violence that concludes the story. That grisly denouement jars with the rest of the film and seems unnecessarily excessive on first view, although it is perhaps needed to balance the muted sadness that dominates throughout. Regardless of how that end is perceived, We Are What We Are easily stands out among the dumb and dire remakes that relentlessly clog cinema screens. A thoughtful, intelligent take on the earlier film, it exerts a spellbinding charm that is all its own.

An earlier version of this review was published as part of our FrightFest 2013 coverage.

Virginie Sélavy

Watch the trailer: