We Are What We Are (Jim Mickle, 2013)

Drawing direct inspiration from Jorge Michel Grau’s 2010 film of the same name, Jim Mickle’s iteration of a family of cannibals hiding their secretive behavior from suspicious townsfolk is questionably poetic in terms of presentation but mostly admirable as such. Following the untimely death of his wife, one Frank Parker (Bill Sage) appoints his eldest daughter Iris (Ambyr Childers) as the new family matriarch and upholder of an at-first mysterious annual ritual. While she and sister Rose hesitantly comply with the savage atrocity coinciding with this, both a change of heart and threatening of their lives’ security perpetually loom as literal floodwater unearths incriminating evidence from years past.

For starters, it’s safe to say that few people could do what Mickle’s done with such a purposefully uncouth narrative. Amply sidestepping the pratfalls of foreseeability, an admirable adherence to the Parker children’s impressionable naivety pumps the production full of tangible sensitivity. Just witnessing the lengths to which Iris and Rose go to shield a younger brother from their own plight is effective if strangely touching, a subsequent involvement of Iris’ town deputy love interest doing the same for establishing an air of humanity among them.

Avoiding aberrance as much as it can before eventually succumbing to it, We Are What We Are‘s presumable gratuity is actually quite nonexistent. Instead, Mickle prides himself on exploiting the film’s sustained level of discomfort, of which is frequently conveyed as a series of implied, unsettling truths. Impeccably shot and scored, these and other sequences rarely cease to captivate despite the sum being an unintentional slog, and to be honest, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something this startlingly original barring the foreign framework upon which this is based.

As what could collectively be perceived as an engagingly rendered, procedure-heavy horror yarn, We Are What We Are more so prides itself on sustained thematic distress than traditional genre elements. Surprisingly humanistic in its illustration of affected key players, the film’s poise preceding an unintentional, latter-act gout of self-parody is praiseworthy, the script exhibiting flashes of modest ingenuity here and there to elevate it above recurring instances of mainstream schlock. It’s far from wholly noteworthy, however Mickle’s tenacious flair – comparable to what he exhibited throughout Stake Land – certainly is, especially considering what it’s been applied toward.

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