We Are What We Are
by Hope Madden
The little seen but magnificent 2010 Mexican import We Are What We Are offered perhaps the most biting social commentary set to film that year. The fact that this revelatory work happened to fit into the horror genre – and no doubt about that! – made the film that much more provocative and fascinating.
Writer/director Jim Mickel and his writing partner Nick Damici tackle an American remake, but wisely use the source material as more of an inspiration than an actual blueprint.
As in Jorge Michel Grau’s original, one family’s religious custom is thrown into havoc when the family leader dies unexpectedly, leaving the ritual unfinished and the children left to determine who will take over. Both films look at a particularly religious family as a sort of tribe that evolved separately but within the larger population. Grau has better instincts for mining this paradigm to expose the flaws of the larger population, but Mickel takes an American Gothic tone to create an eerily familiar darkness that treads on common urbanite fears.
Mickel and Damici created 2010’s surprisingly fresh Stake Land, a post-apocalyptic vampire tale that packed a real punch. Their second effort is a more polished piece, aided by impressive performances from a mostly seasoned cast.
The always exceptional Michael Parks plays a gentle, rural doctor heartbroken over the years-old disappearance of his daughter and intrigued by some grisly bits unearthed by the recent flood. Meanwhile, the devout and desperate Parker family prepares for Lamb’s Day.
While the subtext, subtle authenticity and almost Shakespearean family drama of the original are missing, this version is comfortable in its setting, drawing from a very American style of horror. Along with Parks, Kelly McGillis adds a nice turn in a supporting role, while Ambyr Childers and Julie Garner ably embody the horrifyingly put upon children of a deceased matriarch with a really tough job to do.
The film sets a tone that sneaks up and settles over you, like the damp from a flood. Mickel proves adept with traditional horror storytelling, casting aside any flash in favor of smothering atmosphere and a structure that slowly builds tension, and the impressive climax is worth the wait.
Needless flashback sequences seek to explain what’s better left unsaid, and many surprises will be obvious too soon, but the creepy atmosphere, solid performances and fine writing help to make this remake a worthwhile counterpart to the ingenious Mexican original.