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March 23, 2014

Movie Review: We Are What We Are (2013)

I think because I had built this movie up so much in my mind I ended up somewhat disappointed. Don’t get me wrong - it’s a good flick. I may even watch it again in case I missed any little nuances. But I wasn’t blown away like I expected. I also discovered it’s yet another remake so I’m interested in seeing the original Mexican flick to do a comparison.

We Are What We Are is about a backwoods small town family, The Parkers. The movie opens with the mom’s death. It’s clear she’s been sick for a while: hand tremors, grey pallor, coughing up blood. You know, the usual.  Now the distraught father, two daughters, and one son, are left behind to pick up the pieces.  And carry on the tradition (dun dun duuuuuuuun!).  Apparently that begins with the first day of Abstinence (not from sex - that would have been an entirely different flick): no solid food for 3 days. When the little boy, Rory, tries to sneak a paltry raisin, dad nearly tears his arm off.

Iris, the oldest girl, must now take on the family responsibility in place of her mother. She’s clearly upset about it but daddy sets the rules, it’s the way it’s always been done so who is she to argue? Rose, the second oldest girl, wants to chuck tradition to Hades and run away. But she’s not strong enough to do it on her own so she sticks around and takes care of Rory, the littlest Parker. They decide to get through the process this year and worry about how to get out later.

Soon dad begins to exhibit signs of the same illness his wife had. He continues to call it a sign from God that they need to stick with their traditions and hurry up and get ‘er done. He passes along a creepy journal to Iris so she can understand how it all began and why they must continue. If God saw fit to start their ancestors on this path then it must be righteous.

While the Parkers deal with their family creepiness (Rory thinks the woman crying and chained up behind the locked door in the basement is a monster), the local Doctor has growing suspicions about them. After his dog finds what the Doc believes is a human bone, he begins digging into the unsolved disappearances in their small hamlet and the surrounding towns. Seems over 30 people have gone missing over the past 20 or so years. Well now, that’s peculiar. Though he can’t get the local sheriff to believe him, he pursues his own investigation. After all, his daughter is one of the missing people.

And this is when everything starts to unravel. Though the Parkers keep their yearly tradition alive, the family does not improve. Dad continues to spiral, the Doc closes in on their ‘secret’, and the girls just want to get the hell out of Dodge. 

The movie is full of atmosphere. It rains 85% of the time and that dampness permeates everything. The grey and muted colors are the symbolic representation of these girls being stuck in a situation they feel they can’t escape and must trudge along as they’re told. The opening close-up shot of the spider web does the same thing. Also the constant flooding of the river gives us the sense that the entire Parker family just goes with the flow, a deluge they can’t fight, in order to keep their tradition alive.

Speaking of this tradition, or family secret, it’s pretty damn obvious what it is from the start. Though no one says out loud what it it until a little over half way through the flick, the movie trailer alone tells you what’s going on. Anyone even slightly familiar with weird shit can recognize the symptoms from which the mom suffers. And when the dad starts exhibiting the same symptoms, before and after the tradition, I just told the TV, ‘well, duh.’ And if you haven't figured it out yet, well, bless your heart.

The first half of the film is all about the build and the atmosphere. Background noises are unsettling but so subtle that you have to stop and try to figure out why your skin feels like it’s crawling. Once the secret it out everything spirals out of control: the death toll increases, there’s lots of blood, the dad is clearly losing his mind, the scores and scores of buried victims’ bones are released by flood waters. The final gory dinner scene took me completely by surprise. It was pretty glorious and fitting.

The actors were fantastic, particularly Rose (Julia Garner). She played a 14 year old girl but one who had aged beyond her years after everything she’d witnessed and been raised on. The father (Bill Sage) was a great character. He was so dark and twisted, one of those blind faith kinda guys that come off as more monstrous than fallible.

I watched the DVD extras to listen to the interviews with the director, Jim Mickle, and he wanted to portray the dad as a monster but with an understanding that he was doing his best for his family, some kind of redeeming quality. I, personally, felt no sympathy for Frank Parker. Anyone who blindly follows tradition without question is an idiot. Someone who can’t take 2 seconds to use their own brain to question whether or not killing people is right or wrong deserves what they get. And part of me believes he might have known the difference (especially after what he plans for his kids) but chose not to acknowledge it.

Overall the film has that nice Gothic horror feel that is missing in this day of torture porn, gratuitous tits and ass, and tiresome cliches.

3 hatchets (out of 5)

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