We Are What We Are (2010)
Give writer/director Jorge Michel Grau credit, he took a fresh approach to the cannibalism film. His Spanish language picture lives in a drab underworld of poverty teeming with disposable populations and those who consume flesh, figuratively and literally.
In a quiet opening sequence, a man dies in a mall. It happens that this is a family patriarch and his passing leaves the desperately poor family in shambles. While their particular quandary veers spectacularly from expectations, there is something primal and authentic about it.
It’s as if a simple relic from a hunter-gatherer population evolved separately but within the larger urban population, and now this little tribe is left without a leader. An internal power struggle begins to determine the member most suited to take over as the head of the household, and therefore, there is some conflict and competition – however reluctant – over who will handle the principal task of the patriarch: that of putting meat on the table.
We’re never privy to the particulars – again giving the whole affair a feel of authenticity – but adding to the family’s crisis is the impending Ritual, which apparently involves a deadline and some specific meat preparations.
Grau’s approach is so subtle, so honest, that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a horror film. Indeed, were this family fighting to survive on a more traditional level, this film would simply be a fine piece of social realism focused on Mexico City’s enormous population in poverty. But it’s more than that. Sure, the cannibalism is simply an extreme metaphor, but it’s so beautifully thought out and executed!
The family dynamic is fascinating, every glance weighted and meaningful, every closed door significant. Grau draws eerie, powerful performances across the board, and forever veers in unexpected directions.
We Are What We Are is among the finest family dramas or social commentaries of 2010. Blend into that drama some deep perversity, spooky ambiguities and mysteries, deftly handled acting, and a lot of freaky shit and you have hardly the goriest film ever made about cannibals, but perhaps the most relevant.