The Parker family has a secret. And anyone who has seen or has a passing familiarity with Jorg Michel Grou’s Somos lo que hay already knows that secret: The Parkers are cannibals. Jim Mickle’s (Mulberry Street, Stake Land) Sundance remake of the 2010 Mexican cult classic has a story as timeless as Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. But how that story is filmed and acted is what sets Mickle’s film apart.
Residing in a tiny, rain-battered town deep in the Catskills, the Parkers have managed to keep their family secret for hundreds of years. Patriarch Frank (Bill Sage) is a bit of a Bible freak, prone to belching scripture when his young’uns resist his regimented chow schedule. Teenage daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner), as well as young son Rory (Jack Gore), are sometimes denied food for days at a time, their sole sustenance obtained through a glass of milk or a handful of Snap Pops –– up until that one special day arrives. The day when they are finally able to hold hands around the table and dine as a family.
After one of the worst rainstorms on record results in heavy flooding, the local doctor (Michael Parks) discovers what he believes are human remains in the river bed. With the sheriff (Mickle cohort Nick Damici) unwilling to assist, the doc is forced to launch an investigation of his own, with the help of an agreeable deputy (Wyatt Russell). The clues inevitably lead to the Parkers. Already dealing with the recent loss of Mrs. Parker, the family begins to crumble under the increased scrutiny, each member contemplating their individual role in the ages-old tradition.
And “tradition” is the key to Mickle’s well-shot, contemplative family horror-drama. As Iris and Rose question their place in the family, the seams of the Parker clan begin to stretch and tear, which is where the script (penned by Mickle and Damici) really excels. Both Childers and Garner are excellent as the Parker daughters –– the rainy day lighting casts both actresses in vampiric shades of pale that add an otherworldly aspect to the movie –– and their inner conflict is palpable. Featuring strong performances and taking full advantage of the melancholy Catskills setting, this is undeniably one good-looking piece of cinema.
My only complaint about Mickle’s latest is that –– despite a few effective shocks and scares –– the overall story lacks any real surprises. And this is coming from a guy who has never seen the original. With We Are What We Are, what you see is essentially what you get. But this crafty exploration of familial ritual has a lot to say and it says it well. In Mickle’s film, tradition may have the power to bind people together, but if overused or outdated, tradition can also rip people apart.