It is much harder to make a solid horror film in the 21st century. Just about every thought of terror has been explored and exploited to a point where nothing feels new anymore. While the public gets ready for a ton of re-makes and ‘next chapters’ in horror franchises, a little flick called We Are What We Are has slipped under the radar, basically undetected by the masses.
The story is actually a remake of a Mexican film, but takes a much different path. It concerns The Parkers, a deep-woods religious family who clings to the old ways. They are run by Frank (Bill Sage), a patriarch who is obsessed by the traditions that have been laid down for generations. He has two daughters, Rose (Julia Garner) and Iris (Ambyr Childers), and a son Rory (Jack Gore). The family keeps to themselves running a trailer park.
When their mother mysteriously dies, the two girls must take on the ancient ways of the clan. It is all laid out in an old book that tells the back story of the family. Neither of the girls wants to participate in the rituals but they are pressured by their father. On the other side of the story is Doc Barrow (Michael Parks). He is in charge of the investigation of Mama Emma Parker, and finds it mysterious that the woman would just drop away dead. The more the doc investigates the woman’s body, the more he begins to question how she died. He lost his daughter a few years ago and begins to see a connection between the Parker family and his missing kid. Iris catches the eye of a young deputy named Anders (Wyatt Russell). As much as he is smitten with the young woman, the more she tries to dissuade him. She knows that her father would never approve of the young man but she still has lusts that need to be satisfied.
We Are What We Are is a family melodrama that turns left very hard at the end. It is made to astonish the audience and it does so with a certain gleeful relish. The last few minutes of the film are grisly, going way over the top in a Herschell Gordon Lewis style of filmmaking. My first impression of the end result was shock. The surprise at the end of the film is disturbing and outrageous. But, the more I thought about it, the more it made narrative sense. There are those who will be appalled by the ending, so consider this a very stern warning.
Julia Garner has been in many independent flicks over the last few years and makes a strong impression in We Are What We Are. She is a conflicted soul, having to choose between what is right by society and what it right by her family. It is the best performance of the film and truly the only stand-out in the cast.
The best part of the production is the overall look of the film. The location is lush and brooding, with thick green trees and heavy rain from the skies. One feels the entrapment of the characters in the world through the storms. The weather almost becomes it’s own character in this story.
Director Jim Mickle makes a film that twists and turns in a manic delight, toying with his audience the same way an alley cat toys with a mouse before dinner. He moves his characters like a chess player on a board, setting up the audience for the kill. It is a masterful storytelling experience that is as disturbing as watching a great white shark devouring a seal.
This is a film that will generate strong emotions, both good and bad. I can see where some will hate just about every frame of the movie and I can see where some will love it. There will be no middle ground in We Are What We Are — but regardless of how you feel, you will not forget it.