Monday, December 30, 2013

FILM REVIEW: We Are What We Are (2013)


Jim Mickle is better than this.

We Are What We Are  is a good film filled with extraordinary performances. Unfortunately, it is a remake to another good film...which means that we've already seen this before. However, that's not to say that it's a bad thing by any measure...nor is it a complete waste of time. In reality, this version of We Are What We Are  is quite enjoyable and brings some fresh aspects to the cinematic table.

Let's start with Jim Mickle. Without question, one of my favorite American directors of recent years. His feature debut, Mulberry St, a film that I feel like I've seen a lifetime ago, is a pretty goddamn great film. His follow-up, Stake Land, is a film that every horror filmmaker strives to make. It is a beautiful film that transcends its own genre elements and becomes something quite substantial. Stake Land  is in my top ten best films of the last decade. So, when I first heard that Mickle was attached to write (along with his usual collaborator, Nick Damici) and direct a remake of Somos Lo Que Hay, I was a little taken aback by the news. I never really held the original Mexican horror film to any kind of high cinematic regard or anything...but, to see that an American filmmaker, talented beyond measure, would be doing another remake just sort of disheartened me. That said, We Are What We Are  is impeccably shot and expertly directed. It is a film that works as both a marvel in cinematography, as well as a great example of perfect sound design. Absolutely striking.

The film opens with a bit of a familiar scene...if you've seen the original, that is. Emma Parker (played briefly by Kassie Wesley DePaiva) is on her way out of this world. It is evident by her frail demeanor and her struggling to stay conscious that she is stricken in a bad way by some kind of illness...and it is only a matter of time before she ends up passed out in a puddle somewhere. If you remember Somos Lo Que Hay, it was the father who was introduced as the ill-fated one wandering the town. So, already...the whole gender-swap is revealed and we have a sort of brand new premise. One that involves two sisters and one brother rather than the original's two brothers and one sister...which is something that I actually enjoyed this time around. While the notion of a family of cannibals struggling to survive is still intact, the small backwoods town location along with the inclusion of a flood that has ravaged the small town certainly makes things interesting.


I would say that the centerpiece for this film is held together by the Oscar-caliber performances all throughout. I mean that with all sincerity. The talent here is amazing and really a spectacle to behold.  The sisters, in particular, are perfect in their roles. Julia Garner (The Last Exorcism 2), who plays the younger sister Rose Parker, displays a subtlety in her character...ready to break free from the pack at first chance, but terror-stricken when realizing her obligations are far beyond her control. Rose is actually the stronger of the two sisters. Ambyr Childers (The Master) plays the older sister Iris, who has to take over as the patriarch of the family once her mother is found dead in a puddle. While she knows her destiny within this family of cannibals, she yearns to have a regular life somewhere far from all this horror.

Bill Sage plays the pensive father of the cannibal clan, Frank Parker. He's quite the bottled up ill-stricken cult leader of the group. Almost ready to explode at any given notice, if not for his often debilitating state. Sage plays him nicely with such an understated domineering force. Stake Land  alumni Kelly McGillis and Nick Damici both show up as the Parkers' nosy neighbor and the unambitious town sheriff, respectively. Hell...even the prolific genre familiar face, Larry Fessenden finds a way to shoehorn himself into the picture with a few lines.

A word on Michael Parks.

I fucking love me some Michael Parks. Any goddamn day...any goddamn place. He could show up in a goddamn Tyler Perry film, for Christ's sake and instantly make that film 20 times better. Shit, I was damn near falling asleep during Argo...until Michael Parks showed up and made me sit up and snap out of my Affleck-induced coma. Unfortunately, he was in Argo  for only a scene or two...but, the potential for more Michael Parks helped me get through the entire film (at least until that crazy dramatic final act). Michael Parks plays Doc Barrow in the film. He's the town's coroner mostly motivated by the disappearance of his own daughter several years ago. It's not long before he finds a human bone washed up by the flood and he's on the case like a fucking bloodhound picking up a scent from its game. Barrow is relentless with his own investigation, which leads him to the doorstep of the Parkers. More Michael Parks in the genre, please!


Perhaps the biggest issue I found with this new version of We Are What We Are  is that it lacks the sense of urgency that the original film conveyed so well. Ever since the very first frame, Somos Lo Que Hay  felt like a frenzied race to its tragic conclusion. While this film does have some bits of tension here and there, it never really feels like impending doom. You almost get the feeling that most of the main characters will make it out of this cannibalistic nightmare, which sort of sullies any kind of riveting tension that the film manages to build into the third act. It's all about happy endings with this incarnation...which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But, it's not as compelling as the original film. Altho, Mickle does manage to throw in the "final meal" bit from the first film. Which, I found to be a nice touch.

The gore, tho scant, is really well done. Throat-rippings and flesh-chomps are extremely convincing and all done in a very tasteful practical FX manner. While the film is very subdued in the grue department, it does get vicious when it wants be and Mickle does a fine job of directing the spilled blood when it counts.

We Are What We Are  is a great Jim Mickle film. However, Jim Mickle is much better than this...as evidenced by his brilliant Stake Land. It's actually a bit weird that this remake was made, seeing as how it got pretty much the same distribution treatment as the first film. Only playing in limited release and selected theaters. Usually, whenever Hollywood remakes a foreign film, it's done with the intent to make someone rich. This film feels just as small and intimate as the original, which is probably part of the reason that it is so good. And while Mickle and Damici do a great job of making this film their own, it is a remake that doesn't ever feel needed. I really enjoyed the original film, as well as this one...both for different reasons. But, I probably wouldn't go out and snatch up the collector's edition Blu-ray of either film. That said, it's a solid entry into the cannibal family subgenre.




Thanks for reading,

bryan.




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