We Are What We Are (2013)

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“The Parkers, a reclusive family who follow ancient customs, find their secret existence threatened as a torrential downpour moves into their area, forcing daughters Iris and Rose to assume responsibilities beyond those of a typical family.” — IMDb

This was an interesting one for me since I think it did a great job at walking that line between a dark thriller and an actual horror film. It relies much more heavily on a general sense of dread and a more relatable feeling of claustrophobia that results from being trapped in an overbearingly traditional family. This is an American remake of the 2010 Mexican film of the same name (also known as Somos Lo Que Hay), which was directed by Jorge Michel Grau. I went into this movie not realizing it was a remake and while I do wish I had seen the original version first, I’ll definitely watch that at some point as well because I’d love to compare the two!

After the sudden and mysterious death of their mother (which we witnessed in the opening act — it really set the tone for the remainder of the movie), daughters Rose (Julia Garner) and Iris (Ambyr Childers) are left to carry on with their domineering father, Frank (Bill Sage), and their naïvely innocent younger brother, Rory (Jack Gore). We quickly learn that, in the absence of the matriarch of the family, the eldest daughter must take the lead for an archaic tradition they are about to take part in… one that involves the consumption of human flesh. We learn, by way of one of the daughters reading an old diary, that these traditions have been passed down for generations in their family, stemming from a time when it was necessary to do anything to survive the harsh winters. The family, previously content to live solitarily, are now thrust into a spotlight of sorts, both from the expected grief over their wife and mother’s passing, and from the local doctor, Doc Barrow (Michael Parks), pairing up with a deputy sheriff (Wyatt Russell) after he finds evidence of Kuru during the mother’s autopsy and bone fragments thanks to a days-long rain storm. Everything comes to a head with a fairly shocking ending as people are forced to get desperate.

** SPOILERS! **

Firstly, I think it’s used so often in horror movies, but in this particular one I LOVED the atmosphere that the non-stop rain added, I think in great part because it actually tied into the story in a significant way and wasn’t just a random weather occurrence added in to make things more spooky. The heavy rain resulting in some upheaval of trees and land is what caused Doc Barrow to find the bone fragments to begin with, which aided in his further investigating the family… it was a clever plot point that not only helped in a key part of the story but also definitely did add to the brooding atmosphere.

I, naturally, loved the brief sighting of Nick Damici (who was so awesome in Late Phases the following year, and who also co-wrote this film with director Jim Mickle) — he plays a sheriff and you only see him for a short bit but YAY NICK! On the flip side there is also a brief appearance by Larry Fessenden and I just have yet to understand his appeal or why he’s in every damn movie ever.

It did a great job at addressing issues surrounding both religion and deeply-rooted tradition, and the effects both can have on childhood and development — we see these daughters wanting desperately to be like other kids their age, but told that “this is how things have always been done” and asked to take on responsibilities that should not only be beyond their capabilities as teenagers but beyond their capabilities as human beings. We see the conflicting desires to please your parents and to do what’s expected of you in a stoic and noble way but also wanting to appease the part of you that may want to rebel, or even just the part of you that wants to remain young and innocent.

I think this concept is really shown when it comes to the budding romance between Iris and Deputy Anders. He has obviously had a crush on her for a long while but she seems like she’s unsure what to even do with such information — almost like she doesn’t believe it. When they finally have a chance to be alone, she goes into overdrive… like she’s either so unfamiliar with how romances typically go, or she’s so desperate for a chance to escape her life in any way possible, and they wind up having sex within mere minutes of being alone in the woods. Her father finding them and brutally killing Anders — probably the most shocking scene in the movie, and intensely well done — is really a perfect physical representation of the hold he has over her, the control he has over how she lives (or doesn’t live) her life.

The scene where the father is angrily chopping trees with an axe and he starts to notice bones in the felled tree is pretty intense. Again, him almost adrift in the swiftly moving stream as he tries and fails to scoop up all of the evidence of their past “traditions” is a great representation of him just trying desperately to keep things “the way they always have been” but everything is slipping out of his grasp.

I thought the ending was kind of great in an odd, cyclical way… the traditions of yore coming full circle to completely envelop the father in ways he never imagined.

Ultimately, I loved that this movie was so much less about the traditionally scary and gory aspects, though they did exist. You become invested in it for the character development, the atmosphere, the crime-solving aspect of Doc Barrow investigating, the perfectly ominous music, the lush cinematography, and then you’re like… oh, right, they also eat people. COOL.

Rating: 7/10 | Director: Jim Mickle | Writer: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici | Music: Jeff Grace, Darren Morris, Phil Mossman | Starring: Julia Garner, Ambyr Childers, Jack Gore, Bill Sage, Kelly McGillis, Wyatt Russell, Michael Parks, Kassie Wesley DePaiva

 

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