Sundance Film Festival just kicked off this weekend and one of the first films to play the “Park City At Midnight” portion of the event was Stake Land director Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are. It’s a remake of Mexican director Jorge Michel Grau’s picture about a family of cannibals that’s been moved from its original setting of Mexico City, to a poor part of the Catskills region in New York State.
If you’re following the fest at all, you may have seen more than a few glowing reviews pop up online after the film’s first screening. I just got off the phone with Mickle, who was on his way into yet another sold out showing of the film. We talked about his approach to remakes, the violence in the film and what he’s got coming up after the fest.
In the film, “A devastating storm washes up clues that lead authorities closer and closer to the cannibalistic Parker family.” Cast includes Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Michael Parks, Wyatt Russell and Kelly McGillis.
We Are What We Are has several other Sundance screenings coming up. 1/22/2013 @ 6:00 pm at the Egyptian Theatre, 1/25/2013 @ 11:30 pm at Prospector Square Theatre and 1/26/2013 @ 6:00 pm at Broadway Centre Cinema 6. Head inside for the interview!
When you set out to remake the film, what were some of the tenets you wanted to hold onto in terms of putting your own voice on it?
The biggest thing I think was the fact that I’m not a big remake fan at all. I’m the first guy to get pissed off when they happen. So when it first came along I wasn’t into it at all, and I hadn’t seen the original. When I did see it, I thought there was a lot of cool stuff but it was so particular and personal to Jorge [Michel Grau, director of the original film] in a way that very much makes it his own film. So I thought that provided me room to play in my own playground a little bit with it.
It wasn’t like Let The Right One In, where you have the most perfect way possible of telling that story, and all you can do is sort of translate it to English and hope for the best. I also felt that Jorge’s was very specific to urban Mexico which is obviously something I know nothing about. I know rural small town America, and I found it interesting how well so many of the elements translated to that in terms of blind faith and the restraints of family. It translates in a different way but it’s equally specific.
After coming off something like Stake Land, were you trepidatious about tackling something so different?
No. Not at all. I love that. I like people like Danny Boyle and Paul Thomas Anderson and Michael Winterbottom who sort of hop all over the map and don’t settle into something. Coming off of Stake Land, it was a much smaller [budget] film than this one but the scale was so much bigger so it was kind of fun to come in and explore. It’s a very claustrophobic film, a lot of it takes place in a kitchen. So it was kind of fun to come in and ask, “how do we put our stamp on this?”
How did you approach the film’s violence?
With Stake Land I wanted it to feel like an early Carpenter type of thing. This one I wanted to do completely differently. We spend a good chunk of the movie really establishing the reality of the world and the biggest thing for us is that we didn’t want it to feel like a joke. We wanted you to believe that these people were doing this and felt like it was the best thing to do. We spend a good chunk of time hoping you invest with these people and sympathize with them even while they’re doing some horrific things. And then let the genre elements grow out of that.
That’s what we’ve tried to do for 3 movies now, let genre elements grow out of a real world setting and that makes you care if the people live or die. I wish more horror movies did that.
Me too. Are you still working on Cold In July later this year?
Yes. That’s what we’re hoping to do next. There’s other projects I’m pretty psyched about too. Nick [Damici, writer of We Are What We Are and Stake Land) had this other script that has these Native American tribes battling a creature in the woods in 1860’s Northeast America. That’s a pretty awesome script that I love.
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