DVD Review - We Are What We Are

This film is a remake of Somos lo que hay (2010) by Jorge Michel Grau about a secluded and private family of five and how a death leads to its unraveling. Director and co-writer Jim Mickle along with co-writer Nick Damici reverses the genders of the players. In Grau's film, the father dies, which sends his wife, two teenage sons and daughter into a tailspin. Mickle's film instead has the mother die, which leaves her husband, two teenage daughters and prepubescent, ginger-haired son to deal with the fallout. Having seen Grau's film, the fallout is known. Even still, Mickle creates great tension and a feeling of dread, regarding what they'll do. If you haven't seen Somos lo que hay, then what happens in Mickle's film will come as a total surprise.

Mickle's film plays out over the course of four days, Friday to Monday. What happens on Sunday is the shocker, even though it's properly telegraphed. Without spoiling too much, if one hasn't seen it, the family here works together to commit a heinous crime. They justify the crime as being a part of a religious ritual, ordained by God. After the mother dies, it's up to the two teenage daughters, Iris and Rose, to carry on the ritual. With their father as preacher and their kid brother as loyal disciple, they're virtually a cult of four.

The father Frank Parker, played by Bill Sage (American Psycho and The New Twenty) gives Iris, his eldest daughter, a journal that reveals the origin of the cult by relating the story of survival of Iris' ancestors during pre-Industrial times. I don't recall Grau's film having one such origin story. The family in Grau's film seemed to act on primal instincts or decades of grooming and conditioning, almost like The Jungle Book. The sense is conveyed that the family was raised like animals. The same sense isn't conveyed in Mickle's film, so there is a definite disconnect between the origin story and now.

With that disconnect and distance of over 100 years, I didn't get how one thing led to another. The origin story features a similar father with two teenage daughters and the reaction the girls have to what they're father is doing is never explained. They accept it as God's will. Nevertheless, Iris and Rose over 100 years later don't accept what their father does or God's supposed will.

The only explanation that can be inferred is that the two girls in the origin story were more isolated and cut-off from civilization, as opposed to Iris and Rose. Iris, for example, has a boy that she likes. His name is Anders, played by Wyatt Russell. Anders is actually not a boy. He's a man and is a police deputy in the town. Iris' feelings for Anders might be what breaks her from her father's religious spell. Yet, this explanation doesn't follow because it isn't Iris but instead Rose who is the one to start the defiance against her father.

For some reason, Rose has just had enough of her father and his religious rhetoric. It's natural empathy that one hopes all young people have. The mother's death is possibly a breaking point for Rose, but, at the same time Anders and the sheriff are investigating a missing girl, which one would think would be connected personally to either Iris or Rose, but it's instead a weird throwaway.

The ending is crazily shocking, invoking images from the original but also from recent zombie films and TV shows like The Walking Dead. Strangely, it also doesn't follow anything that precedes it. Everything leading up to the ending shows Iris and Rose as civilized and well-mannered, young women and it seems as if they were purposefully raised so, eating with spoons, wearing antebellum clothing and being chaste. Even during a scene of violence, Rose is a quivering leaf. Her reaction in the ending then seems to come out of nowhere.

The title is We Are What We Are, but Rose's reaction seems to be not who she is. Nothing in the movie indicates that she would do what she does in the ending. Grau's film does a better job of not betraying character. However, the acting performances are all spot on here. Michael Parks (Red State) who plays the father of the missing girl is particularly good and a confrontation he has toward the end makes most of the movie worth viewing.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for disturbing violence, bloody images, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.


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