Director: Jim Mickle
Cast: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Michael Parks
Plot: When Frank Parker’s (Sage) wife dies under mysterious circumstances, his family’s secret is washed to the surface, both metaphorically and literally.
There is something odd about the Parker family. That much is painfully apparent with We Are What We Are, the American remake of the Mexican 2010 movie of the same name. They are close knit, keeping themselves to themselves and putting their family above everything else. When a storm hits their sleepy backwater town, the mother of the family starts bleeding from her mouth. In a daze, she slips, smashes her head on her car and falls unconscious in a ditch, as the rain piles up and drowns her. This movie is about how the family reacts to that tragedy and pulls the audience in, so they are intrigued as to what exactly is wrong with this bizarre family. The answer kicks in just before the halfway mark, although if you are familiar with the genre, you should figure out where the movie is going long before then. Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner are fantastic as the brainwashed daughters, vaguely aware that their family’s traditions are not normal, yet their secret is so ingrained into their psychology that they are unable to break away from their destructive cycle. As their father falls ill, almost definitely thanks to the same affliction that killed their mother, the daughters end up having to shoulder the responsibility that their family has given themselves. That is the strong part of the film, watching these shell-shocked, pale-skinned girls carry out actions that they clearly have no desire to do, yet are sworn to perform through their own culture. It is merely a case of how far they can go down this road before, they implode under their own insanity. Perhaps Mickle is satirising the religion, or the misuse of religion, that is heavily used to justify the family’s actions. On the other hand, perhaps the bible-quoting is merely a cheap trick to get across the creepy horror movie vibes, before the mystery is brought to the surface. The better reading of We Are What We Are is that one must break away from the family unit, or the grotesque father figure, a popular Gothic role model, Bill Sage’s Frank Parker echoing a Heathcliff-esque villain, in order to stop repeating the mistakes of the past.
Sadly, the interesting premise doesn’t necessarily equate to a good film. We Are What We Are gets old quickly. The pacing is slow and cumbersome. Even when we finally know what is going on, the story never speeds up, almost as though it is convinced that the dreary, miserable tone is where the horror atmosphere is radiating from. It is not. As a result, any interest of the creepy family unit fades away before too long. The problem with this film is that, outside of the lead family, there aren’t any decent characters. We want someone just as interesting as the Parkers to come up against them and oppose them. Michael Parks is a decent actor, but his character is so by-the-numbers (a doctor, with a missing daughter, who decides that the Parkers could be behind it), that his sub-plot never truly resonates. The other cop character suggests a romantic pairing somewhere down the line, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, almost as if it is a method of keeping the running time going, until the movie gets to the good bits. As a result, the film feels constricted by its three leads. They are interesting enough and the performances are top notch, but this isn’t enough to carry the movie to its closing notes. The stand-off at the end is even a little mediocre, not quite hitting the tension you want it to. Essentially it isn’t really worth the wait, which is a shame, because for a few good moments, it looked like we were really onto something with this story.
Final Verdict: An intriguing family mystery drama fails to keep itself paced sufficiently, so it falls apart somewhere in the second act, never truly recovering.