Starring Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner
Under the same title as Jorge Michel Grau’s 2010 Mexican horror film, the 2013 version of WE ARE WHAT WE ARE only borrows themes from its predecessor and creates a whole new experience that is haunting from the beginning to the end credits. Director, Jim Mickle, has taken a whole new approach to the story by changing the pacing and giving the family a “traditional” makeover, among other tweaks throughout the plot. It still remains a film about a family with deep and disturbing traditions, but is a completely different viewing experience than the original, and it is completely hypnotizing.
On the Friday of their holy weekend, the Parker family are unexpectedly met with the death of the matriarch while she was at the local store buying extra supplies in preparation for a major rainstorm. Being a deeply traditional family, it now becomes the responsibility of the eldest child, in this case daughter Iris (Ambyr Childers, GANGSTER SQUAD), to take on the household responsibilities, including taking care of her younger siblings Rose (Julia Garner, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE) and Rory (Jack Gore). Wrought with devastation, the father (Bill Sage, MYSTERIOUS SKIN, PRECIOUS) insists that the family continue to observe their holy weekend which includes fasting until the “lamb’s day”.
As the storm subsides, human remains begin to wash up on the shores of the creek, found by Doc Barrow (Michael Perks, DJANGO UNCHAINED), whose own daughter had mysteriously gone missing years before. Enlisting the help of the local deputee, (Wyatt Russell, THIS IS 40) who also happens to have an affection towards Iris Parker, the doctor uncovers that the mother had actually died of complications due to a disease that is mostly seen in certain tribes in Papa New Guinea. This sets in motion an investigation that threatens to expose the family and their centuries old traditions, which they have worked to keep secret from the outside world.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE may not seem like a traditional horror movie from the get go, and some may even think it plays out more like a drama, especially if you were to compare it to director Mickle’s previous work STAKE LAND. True, the pacing is incredibly slow, but here it works well for this story. Each layer unfolds slowly, revealing new secrets and twists along the way, which in turn creates a film that is entirely engrossing and completely satisfying. Gore hounds and genre enthusiasts won’t be disappointed with this one, even if you have to work a little for the pay off. The violence isn’t excessive or irrelevant to the story, a subtle tool that is missing from most horror movies these days.
The tone of the film successfully creates a feeling of both dread and beauty, not only with the pacing itself but with the gorgeous visual tones the movie takes. Since the storm has knocked the power out, the family must light their house with candles, giving all the interior shots a warm and gorgeous glow of oranges and browns. In contrast to the cold blues and greens of the outside shots, these interior shots are simply stunning. The dinner table scenes in particular seem as if they could be early American paintings, with set designs that juxtapose the quaint country amidst the outer worlds modern conveniences.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE won’t be for every genre fan, but it absolutely deserves to be given a chance as it is quite possibly the best horror film of 2013 and just a great film, period. The narrative structure seems drawn out at times, but this is wonderful storytelling joined with fantastic acting and beautiful cinematography. It is a film that successfully creeps along, inviting its audience to peek into the dark and disturbing secrets of the Parker family, and doesn’t disappoint.
The Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs from Thursday, October 17 to Friday, October 25 at the Scotiabank Theatre in downtown Toronto. For more information on the films and how to get your hands on tickets, please visit the Toronto After Dark website. You can also follow TAD on Twitter at @TADFilmFest.