We Are What We Are (2014)

We Are What We AreIn the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, there is a storm coming. When Emma Parker (Kassie DePaiva) drops dead in the street, her family are suddenly left to fend for themselves. Daughters Rose (Julia Garner) and Iris (Ambyr Childers) are forced to assume responsibility for the preparation of food — slaves to both their deeply religious father, Frank (Bill Sage), and bound by longstanding family traditions. While performing a post-mortem on Emma, Doctor Barrow (Michael Parks) notices some irregularities in her bloodwork which he first misdiagnoses as being symptomatic of early-onset Parkinson’s disease. He is forced to reconsider the evidence when the Parker family are implicated in a string of disappearances.

More a reimagining than a typical remake of Jorge Michel Grau’s Mexican horror movie Somos lo que hay, We Are What We Are has a very different feel to the 2010 original. Whereas Grau’s film was very much a black comedy, excessive and exploitative, Jim Mickle plays things uniformly straight. The new setting plays a huge part in this, lending the film a reserve and religiosity that is very much of a time and place. There are other, smaller amendments that are just as effective: here it’s the mother that dies (one of many gender reversals), while the failures of the town’s police department are no longer played for laughs.

Sage is incredibly domineering as Frank. He lurks in the background for much of the movie, sending his daughters to identify their mother’s body and leaving them to care for their young brother (a creepy Jack Gore), but his presence is always palpable, even when he isn’t actually on screen. Parks, on the other hand, is comparatively warm and sympathetic, motivated to solve the mysteries surrounding the Parkers by his daughter’s own unsolved disappearance years earlier. It’s Garner and Childers who make the largest impression; two ghostly apparitions who dare to dream of a normal life away from Frank and his tainted bloodline, their performances are as subdued and understated as everyone else’s — at least up to a point — but their eyes burn with fear and indignation.

While the inaction and ambiguity of early scenes succeed in building atmosphere and suspense, the clues as to the Parkers’ true nature are a little too few and far between. As lyrical and revealing as the imagery may be (the ebb and flow of the flood waters first claim Emma’s body, then spill her secrets), it’s little substitute for actual scares. High-brow audiences may balk at the ending, which drops all sense of restraint and seriousness in a flurry of monstrous activity that is over before it has truly begun; mainstream audiences, meanwhile, are likely to think that it’s too little, too late. Ancestral flashbacks that litter the narrative are just as incongruous, and it’s often difficult to reconcile Mickle’s arthouse aspirations with his genre sensibilities; his previous film, Stake Land, struck a much better balance.

Sensitive and deliberate, We Are What We Are isn’t your average American remake. It’s artfully shot and beautifully acted, and while Mickle’s film may lose the socio-political subtext of Grau’s original, it is just as richly textured thanks to its treatment of religious fundamentalism. One thing that it does have in common with its predecessor is that it’s too ponderous and plodding to really engross, and while it may raise a few neck hairs its unlikely to actually scare.

3-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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