We Are What We Are
Directed by Jim Mickle
Starring Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner
Review by Jordan
I’m not sure if the crimes committed by the tragically ritualistic characters in Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are are intended to be a secret to the audience, perhaps the slow build-up of tension and mysterious opening death indicate they are, regardless of this however anyone that has seen the Spanish original (Jorge Michel Grau, 2010) or Antonia Bird’s deviously humorous Ravenous (1999) will know from the offset what they’re in store for, and if you’re entering this world anticipating a brooding family drama only without hints of gore or horror it’s likely that you don’t give thought to a film’s narrative before watching it (note: this is often a good thing).
In short, what I’m unsuccessfully trying to say is that this remarkably bleak yet tremendously mounted American horror film joins the ranks of Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011) as well as Jack Ketchum’s preceding novels Offseason and Offspring, the aforementioned Ravenous and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (Peter Greenaway, 1989) as one of the most accomplished modern works featuring everyone’s favourite taboo subject; cannibalism…
Charting the demise of a rural, close-knit family whose foundations begin to fall apart when it’s matriarch suddenly, and violently dies during the terrible rain season, Jim Mickle’s tale of the ties-that-bind and unfounded tradition further underlines him as one of the most underrated directors in the business, having previously helmed the fun and chaotic Mulberry Street (2006) and sprawling vampire fable Stake Land (2010). His timing and sense of atmosphere are terrific, both helped in large by emotionally complex performances from Bill Sage as domineering father and grieving husband Frank, Julia Garner as second oldest daughter Rose and ever-reliable cult actor Michael Parks (From Dusk ‘till Dawn, Red State) as the determined Doc Barrow; all involved so clearly believing in the grim material they’re a part of. Some unnecessary flashbacks and the occasional plot contrivance do remind us that it is adhering somewhat to formula, and the motivations of the Parker family’s eldest daughter Iris are never properly explored (a shame since she is arguably the most important character), but when the rain clears it’s obvious to see how wonderfully dark We Are What We Are is.
A word I’ve heard numerous times to describe this chilling outing is “boring;” needless to say even if the twisted plot moved at snails pace (it doesn’t) the crisp cinematography in itself is enough to hold interest, which paired with modestly menacing music and score helps to create another world set apart from recognisable America.
Moody, thrilling and ultimately surprising, We Are What We Are may at times be hard to stomach, but for those that like their horror with a bit of meat on its bones, it is quite essential.
4 hearty stews out of 5