We Are What We Are (2013)
03/25/2016 - Director Jim Mickle brings us We Are What We Are, a dark and quite serious story of a family full of faith and secrets. It's the sort of film that unfolds so slowly and eloquently you're taken somewhat by surprise as it twists and turns, providing the surprises haven't already been given away by some reviewer or, of all things, the trailer. Horror films have a peculiar tendency to birth terrifying trailers which - accidentally or not - give a little too much away. I usually try my best not to watch trailers, but these things happen. I'd advise against watching the trailer for We Are What We Are; it doesn't spell the plot out entirely, but there's enough to spoil a few of the more savory bits of the tale.
Written by Mickle and Nick Damici (screenplay by Jorge Michel Grau, who wrote and directed the original 2010 Mexican film of the same name), this beautifully executed film bleeds tension and teases your curiosity. It asks questions you're pretty sure you know the answers to, but it won't come straight out and answer them. It's never a guessing game, but a slow and steady revelation of the truths behind your darker suspicions. It is a story masterfully told. I've not yet been able to watch Grau's original, although I'm eager to; this is a fascinating take on religious extremism, tradition, loss, family, and community through the eyes of those both on the inside and out.
Iris Parker (Ambyr Childers) and younger sister Rose (Julia Garner) find themselves unexpectedly motherless in an already lonely household. Both young actors hold their own, delivering strong performances of well-polished, believably tortured characters. It is the loss of their mother which triggers the slow-motion domino effect driving the film; the sudden vacuum cased by her death greedily swallows the girls, and leaves clues that expose the family to the outside world. It is a poignant look at the grief and instability revealed when a loved one passes, and the advantages the subconscious takes on a suffering mind.
The girls' father is Frank (Bill Sage), the iron-fisted king of the castle now without a queen. Frank obsesses over the family's strict adherence to tradition and their faith, a faith which is left largely (and effectively) undefined. Frank's struggles are clear: his finances and his family are slipping from his grasp, and this loss of control only fuels his violent nature. Sage plays the part expertly, slowly slipping away into madness until the last moments. I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say this: if you've got qualms with Sage's performance near the end (as I initially did), give it some thought before you rush to judgement. Like the rest of this film, Frank's journey is carefully woven into the fabric of this family's tragedy.
Michael Parks is, as always, an absolute delight to watch. As Doc Barrow, the small town doctor intimately familiar with the pain of loss and the fragility of life, Parks is mesmerizing and intriguing and a bit mysterious. In fact, everyone in this town seems to have their own little secrets, I suppose not unlike most towns. Barrow's curiosity (and maybe a personal vendetta) is a second catalyst for the Parker family's impending exposure; as his momentum meets resistance, it must build or break. Parks embodies his character (but doesn't he always?) and gives dimension to what might otherwise be a forgettable supporting cast.
I would love to go on, I really would. I can't, or rather I won't, because I'd have to give away more than I'm willing to. I suppose I could mention that third impetus: the floods that rush in towards the start of the film. Nature, amoral and irrespective, plays Her part. There is no judgement, only a force which can begin, or sustain, or deny, or end all of those actions so carefully planned and safeguarded by we mortals. For each character here having some emotional or spiritual latitude and longitude as their guide, nature remains unrestrained by any frivolous regulation.
I absolutely recommend seeing this, and I believe you'll need to see it more than once. This is a deep and layered story, skillfully performed and flawlessly executed, beautiful and ugly and honest. We Are What We Are has more to offer than you might suspect, and its secrets - while haunting - are no match for the darker struggles of human existence it uncovers.
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Please know, I am including this as a courtesy. If, however, you've not yet seen the film, I would strongly suggest you not watch the trailer, but instead allow the film's secrets to unfold as they should.