[Fantastic Fest '13 Review] ‘We Are What We Are’ Is the Best Cannibal Movie Since ‘Ravenous’

we-are-what-we-are

Wait a second…you’re trying to tell me that there is an American remake of a mildly successful foreign horror film?! WELL I NEVER! I didn’t actually see the original Mexican We Are What We Are until I had heard that a remake was on its way, and I wanted to get in on the ground floor. I wasn’t all that impressed with the film, other than it was interesting to see a modern day cannibal movie that didn’t involve hillbillies, rednecks, or some remote tribes. The remake of the film was directed by Jim Mickle, whose only previous work I had seen was Stake Land, which had a lot of potential in the director but felt had lacked a little bit in the story. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t expecting that much out of the film, especially after having seen The Green Inferno, but not only did I like this version of We Are What We Are, but I think it’s the best cannibal movie I’ve seen since Ravenous.

In the middle of a thunderstorm, a woman leaves a convenience store, slips and hits her head, and dies. We learn that this woman was the head of the Parker household, which now consists of father Frank (Bill Sage), daughters Rose (Julia Garner) and Iris (Ambyr Childers), and son Rory (Jack Gore). The Parkers are not just emotionally taxed by the mother’s death, but they are also in the middle of a religious fast that leaves them weak and fatigued. They get help from a local doctor (Michael Parks) who is also going through some tough times with his daughter having gone missing. The more time we spent with the Parkers, the more we learn about their religion, and learn that their fast can end once they murder, cook, and eat another person. With the amount of time this doctor has been spending around the family, he starts unraveling clues that they might be hiding things. Although Rory is too young to know any different, Rose and Iris are started to get old enough to question if what they’re doing is right and if they can keep up this lifestyle as they travel into adulthood, which means they ultimately need to have a confrontation with their father.

The biggest similarities between the Mexican film and this version are mostly just an opening scene where the family member responsible for finding/murdering victims dies and having the rest of the family needing to step in. In the original, it’s two brother who come across as more competitive and at points bumbling than the more serious tone this film took. The tone of this version is much more serious, much more grim, and much more depressing. I LOVE STUFF LIKE THAT! Even though it takes place in modern day, the way the Parker have disconnected themselves from the rest of society, along with flashback sequences revealing that cannibalism is rooted in the survival instinct of their ancestors when times were tough, made the story feel timeless. There isn’t any radiation, there aren’t characters with only three fingers on their hands, this is just a family who hasn’t come to terms with the effects their beliefs could be having on innocent victims. There are some implications of inbreeding, but those implications aren’t related to why these people are the way they are, but rather show the devotion to the beliefs of these characters.

The acting in this film is superb. Bill Sage is an insecure man who makes up for his flaws as father with violence, which does nothing but remind his children that there’s no one for them to rely on. Julai Garner and Ambyr Childers are fantastic as they both play the children detached from the impact their beliefs could have on other people to growing into kids who accept terrifying responsibilities and are willing to suffer their father’s wrath to question him. Michael Parks was fun to watch as a suspicious and inquisitive authority figure who has almost given up, and it was also nice to see Jim Mickle bringing back Kelly McGillis and writer/frequent collaborator Nick Damici for smaller roles.

Even if the movie didn’t blow me out of the water, I remember really appreciating Jim Mickle’s vision of a post-apocalyptic, vampire filled world with Stake Land. It was stark, it was cold, and the outlook for everyone looked pretty terrible. It shouldn’t be surprising that Mickle brought that style back in We Are What We Are while telling the story of a family of cannibals. A big difference was that I felt like in this film, Mickle also built the audio soundscape to really immerse yourself in the world of these characters. The way that the rain is pounding on the roof and the sounds that are made when human are eating flesh, you can really appreciate the amount of details that Mickle includes to really heighten the audiences experience.

I know that it’s easy to dismiss remakes these days, but I highly recommend you give this one a shot. Whether it be because you like Jim Mickle and his previous work, or because you like the story, or maybe you liked the original, I think there are lots of areas in which this version is an improvement on the source material.

 
  • mobstar67

    Ravenous was exceptional !!!! i also really liked the original “We Are What We Are” but i believe that this will be one of those rare instances were a remake will surpass the original or at least i am truly hoping so…

  • K-Dogg

    I saw this last night at the CIFF, loved the first 2 acts soooo much, and HATED the last act.

  • Golic

    ‘Ravenous’ was overrated. This however, looks fantastic.

  • railridden

    I’ve heard really good things about this one. Can’t wait to see it.