Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violence, Bloody Images, some Sexuality, Nudity and Language
Directed by: Jim Mickle
Written by: Nick Damici & Jim Mickle
Starring: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Wyatt Russell, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis & Michael Parks
With MULBERRY STREET and STAKE LAND, director/writer Jim Mickle and writer/actor Nick Damici have proven themselves to be intriguing new talents in the world of horror. When it was announced that they had completed a remake of WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, many people were skeptical. The original Mexican horror-drama was considered by a ton of critics to be the equivalent of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN for the cannibal subgenre. I was one of the few that really wasn’t impressed by the original film and thought there was a lot of room for improvement. However, Mickle and Damici have created a film that is barely a remake of the foreign Mexi-Cannibal film. It’s the same canvas, but a different painting. In this sense, the duo have delivered their own twisted original story with the same basic concept and it’s a near-masterpiece!
The Parker family live in a small town community where a vicious storm has hit. Roads are flooded, winds are vicious, and the river is overflowing. When the mother of the family unexpectedly passes away in an accident, the Parkers are left in despair. The eldest daughter, Iris, assumes the responsibility of putting meat on the table. The family doesn’t eat typical meat though (if you get my gist) and the ancient customs by which they live are putting a strain on both Iris and her teenage sister, Rose. Their intimidating father watching over both of them (and their younger brother as well), making sure that the traditions are being followed. A tension begins to boil between the father and children. Meanwhile, the town doctor (Michael Parks from RED STATE) is investigating human remains that have washed down river from the Parker’s home…
The pacing of WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is deliberate, patiently building up quiet suspense between certain characters and getting the viewer to invest in every one of them. This may discourage those who want a jump-scare filled romp and I’ve seen many people say that this is “barely a horror film.” I kind of see where they’re coming from, but I felt this was a huge advantage to the story, rather than a detriment. The set-up is horrific and the way it plays out is almost like a drama, it’s just a pretty gory and disturbing story of a broken family. I enjoyed that take on it.
The characters were all well-developed and the way that the tension slowly escalates for the first hour and then goes downright batshit insane in the last 45 minutes was refreshing. Too often, we see so-called horror films that want to rush right into the scares (something that WE ARE WHAT WE ARE doesn’t deliver in forms of cheap music stings and fake-outs). This is a movie that tells a smart and engaging (albeit twisted) story. Mickle and Damici seem to really not care about entertaining the viewer or appealing to the masses. They just wanted to show their own spin on this concept. Even if someone doesn’t appreciate that, they should at least see where they’re coming from.
A dark atmosphere hangs over the film, which adds a lot of the tension too. We never see the sun shine at all. It’s always either cloudy or pouring rain. It sort of adds a bit of despair to the tale, just in setting it in a period of gloomy days and stormy nights. We do see a couple of brief flashbacks to how the origin of this bloody tradition that the Parkers carry out. This may seem like a mistake when it starts, but these sequences were actually very well done and didn’t feel cheap in the slightest. We only see two of them and they are both shown in the first 30 minutes of the film. We only needed a couple for the point to be made.
Even though it’s damn near perfect in most respects (including excellent directing, writing, and acting), WE ARE WHAT WE ARE falls victim to a few horror movie clichés in the final 30 minutes (such as a person not being as unconscious as they seemed or another person not locking the car door when they clearly should have). These are nitpicks, but it was noticeable enough to briefly make me chuckle or roll my eyes a few times. With these slight problems in mind, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE demonstrates a tremendous growth for a team of filmmakers whose talent has literally blossomed in front of many viewer’s eyes (with the very cool MULBERRY STREET, great STAKE LAND, and now this awesome piece of work). WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is a barely a remake of the Mexican film that inspired it, but it far outdoes that so-so flick in every single respect. This is an awesome movie and it comes very much recommended for fans of slow-burn horror!