Tag Archives: cannibalism

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:

We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are

Format: Cinema

Release date:12 November 2010

Venues: Curzon Soho, Odeon Covent Garden, Screen on the Green, Vue Islington (London) and nationwide

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Jorge Michel Grau

Writer: Jorge Michel Grau

Original title: Somos lo que hay

Cast: Adrián Aguirre, Miriam Balderas, Francisco Barreiro, Carmen Beato

Mexico 2010

90 mins

When a middle-aged man drops dead in a shopping mall in urban Mexico, black blood exuding from his mouth, he leaves a terrible legacy. He has been the sole hunter for his wife and children who, like him, are cannibals. Jostling for position, they clumsily embark on the hunting for themselves. As we follow their exploits, Jorge Michel Grau’s debut feature is pulled in several directions; unearthly characters create subtle tensions that are cut through by caricatured cops and avenging prostitutes, Guillermo del Toro rubbing shoulders with Pedro Almodóvar. Some of the hunt scenes jolt along to a jazz soundtrack creating a West Side Story-ish fragmented hysteria, done so well in, say, Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris. Grau stitches together a Frankenstein’s monster of styles.

The family home is an artful, Gothic offering with dingy lighting and clutter that points to an obsession with time and repetition: a tin of strange ribbons incessantly counted by mother and hundreds of ticking clocks left by the departed horologist father. The uncanny continues with a soundscape that is full of intricacies that merge the everyday with the grotesque, such as the exaggerated sound of Mum’s (Carmen Beato) shoes clomping begrudgingly and curtly up the staircase. She is the one in the end who batters the human prey with matter-of-fact precision, and her deadpan performance evokes black comedy to add to the plethora of Grau’s styles.

The actual ‘rito’, the ritual dismembering, takes place on the family dining table surrounded by candlelit plastic crime-scene sheets: mother and daughter carve. The family are trapped in the cycle of performing these killings but it’s unclear whether this is fuelled by psychotic delusion or by a supernatural curse, where they will physically perish if they don’t eat human flesh. Their cult logic resurrects the Aztec obsession with carrying out protective sacrifice on a mass scale in order to ensure prosperity, and so Grau brings anxiety about literally putting ‘meat on the table’ into the here and now. Indeed the sacrificial victims are duped and lured in sites of poverty, trade and expenditure all elegantly picked out with lush cinematography and shallow depth of field; a traders market, a kerb-crawling zone, a flyover inhabited by vagrant children. The ‘dog eat dog world’ socio-economic metaphor here is heavy-handed.

Grau gets even more mileage out of the symbolic meaning of cannibalism as it also points to the psychic brutality families can inflict on each other. The exploration of these family dynamics is the strength of the film, take or leave the cannibalism. The father’s death is a catalyst for the eruption of drives that have been kept under wraps. As the family claim their victims their sexual orientations are revealed and these individual vignettes are sensitively played out, but teenage torment vies with the necessity of providing dinner for the family. The Bildungsroman elements of the film are the most moving and worthy of development and while the horror milieu is beautifully rendered, the social commentary comes with its own spoon.

Nicola Woodham