Movie Review: ‘We Are What We Are’
Directed by: Jim Mickle
Starring: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, and Michael Parks
Plot: The Parkers, a family with a secret tradition, run the risk of being exposed after the death of one of their members.
A while back I wrote an article titled 10 MORE Directors of the Now (to coincide with a series of articles by G-Funk). If I could go back and include someone I missed, it would be Jim Mickle. I still haven’t seen his first movie, Mulberry Street, but his vampire doomsday epic, Stake Land, is probably one of the best horror movies of the last few years. Between Stake Land, this movie, and his new crime thriller, Cold in July, that is getting good buzz at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, he is definitely a new name to look out for.
One of the biggest reasons for that is because he is making horror movies in a way that most people have stopped. He invests a lot of time and energy into slowly cultivating dread and an overall feeling of unease rather than attack your senses with viscera and jump-scares. Not to say that those elements are gone, but he actually backs them up with a level writing and acting horror movies nowadays just phone in.
Here, he reteams with his writing partner and occasional actor, Nick Damici, to remake a 2010 Mexican film of the same name. I haven’t seen it, but from what I have heard, the motivation for the secret tradition has been changed from economic desperation to religious extremism. As much as the economic desperation would be very relevant in this day and age, religious extremism is always such a great horror stand-by. The way that people are hesitant to let go of their beliefs and traditions no matter how strange or dangerous is always easy lampshading. Mix that with the biblical amount of rain that is falling during the entire movie, and it is just symbolic bad omen after bad omen.
As the story goes, the trouble starts when Alyce Parker dies mysteriously while shopping for groceries. Her strict husband, Frank (American Pyscho‘s Bill Sage) , is now left alone with their 2 teenage daughters (Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner) and their young son. Frank rules the house with an iron-fist and a unflinching loyalty to his family traditions. Those traditions are meant to be performed by the matriarch, so the task falls to Frank’s daughters. Childers and Garner carry much of the dramatic weight with a chilly, disappointed silence. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the local coroner, Doc Barrow (played excellently by Michael Parks) starts independently investigating the family.
A lot of the time, people act like horror is treated unfairly by the more pretentious organizations for not getting credit where credit is due, but I’m pretty sure that’s horror’s fault. They are way to complacent with not trying hard enough. There are so many uninspired remakes and bad sequels and found footage schedule fillers. Let’s face it, horror does get credit when it is warranted. The Exorcist. Rosemary’s Baby. Silence of the Lambs. We Are What We Are isn’t quite on their level, but you can see the potential. If anyone can bring contemporary horror out of its rut, I’m betting on Jim Mickle.