BBFC Classification: 18
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Michael Parks, Kelly McGillis, Kassie DePaiva
Say the words ‘cannibal movie’ to your average film-watching reprobate and you’ll usually be met with grim titles such as Cannibal Holocaust or Deep River Savages before a mention of at least one Hannibal Lecter or Texas Chainsaw film. But in 2010 a Mexican film based around a family trying to survive after the death of the patriarch offered a different slant on the cannibal theme to fairly positive reviews, so naturally an American remake of We Are What We Are was bound to come along sooner or later.
After the death of the family matriarch, the Parker’s – stern father Frank (Bill Sage – American Psycho), teenage daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers – The Master) and Rose (Julia Garner – The Last Exorcism Part II) and young Rory (Jack Gore) – carry on their family tradition of eating human flesh on every other Sunday, as dictated by Frank and an ancestral diary that describes how a distant relative resorted to eating other people to survive a harsh winter. Believing the act to be some sort of penance, Frank passes the diary on to Rose as the next in line to provide food for the family as an unrelenting rainstorm moves in to the area, but the rising floods bring the hidden human remains to the surface and attracts the attention of Doctor Barrow (Michael Parks – From Dusk Till Dawn), whose own daughter suddenly vanished under mysterious circumstances.
Directed and co-written by Jim Mickle (Stake Land), We Are What We Are is a very different film to its Mexican counterpart. In this film, Mickle keeps the sinister undertones and menace of the original but the change in dynamic of having the father keeping the family together instead of the mother gives it a totally different feel, as does the gothic setting and gloomy atmosphere. All of this is helped along by the deliberately slow pacing and intense performance of Bill Sage, who takes intensity to new levels as the intimidating Frank, a man whose emotional breakdown and reliance on the ritual of feasting on others eventually causes his children to question their bizarre lifestyle.
But this isn’t a one-man show as the rest of the cast all give a great performance. Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner completely sell the roles of emotionally tortured children with a burning desire to escape their life and really anchor the film, and Michael Parks is as reliably likeable as he always is. Kelly McGillis (Top Gun/Stake Land) appears as the Parker’s neighbour Marge, who also has reasons to be suspicious of the family and their behaviour, and although she isn’t in the film that much she does enough to become a character we care about, especially as she only ever tries to help Frank and the children.
The mood that the filmmakers establish within the first few minutes doesn’t lift at all and serves the story well, setting up the knowledge early on that there isn’t going to be any sunshine to break through the clouds – either physically or metaphorically – and that whatever happens, the film isn’t going to offer a happy ending for anybody. In the hands of a crew with lesser talent that could be problematic and you’d end up with an oppressive torture porn vibe, but Jim Mickle, co-writer Nick Damici and the main cast treat the material seriously and respectfully, and whilst it could quite easily have gone down the cannibal gut-cruncher route there is a sense of restraint at play, the gore and violence kept to a minimum and the sense of threat and impending doom the key factors that give the film its power. At its heart, We Are What We Are is a horror film and one that delivers its horrors in a more subtle and cerebral way, although the climax of the film shifts the tone slightly to bring the tale to an end, and even though it does feel a little gratuitous, after the monolithic build of the previous 95 minutes it’s not an unwelcome resolution and doesn’t break the tension like it so easily could have done. So overall, We Are What We Are takes an already decent film, alters a few details and ultimately stands on its own away from the shadow of the original. Others take note – this is how you do a remake.
Special Features: Audio commentary with director Jim Mickle and cast members Nick Damici, Julia Garner, Bill Sage and Ryan Samul, An Acquired Taste: The Making of We Are What We Are documentary, cast & crew interviews.
UK Release Date: 3rd March 2014