A few years ago, KillerReviews wrote a piece on how the future of horror was resting on the shoulders of Eli Roth, Ti West and Rob Zombie. We went on at length on how these three filmmakers have kept the genre afloat amongst a few lean years of mediocre horror entries. Just 18 months removed from the editorial, we can come to the counter of humble pie and report that we casually overlooked a few names – and one those is director Jim Mickle.
Jim first grabbed our attention with Mulberry Street (2006) and followed it up brilliantly with Stake Land (2010). He’s back behind the camera again in 2013 with We Are What We Are, a thriller that deals with a family of cannibals fulfilling their cultural traditions. A remake of the Spanish/Mexican film “Somos lo que hay” (2010), We Are What We Are was brought to Toronto to open the Toronto After Dark Film Festival last Thursday and delighted audiences with its disciplined and patient approach to storytelling.
The film takes us inside the home of the Parkers where we meet family patriarch Frank (Bill Sage), daughters Iris and Rose (Ambyr Childers and Julie Garner) and young son Rory (Jack Gore). From an outside view, the Parkers look like your average quiet family. But when a tragedy strikes the family, the two young daughters are thrust into role that they don’t exactly find themselves at comfort which leads to a fork their personal development between family and a societal right and wrong.
At the center of their impasse is their father Frank who has continued the ancestral custom of cannibalism as part of the modern family tradition. The practice involves kidnapping townsfolk and keeping them locked up until the eldest female is tasked at preparing dinner.
We learn through a family journal that the kinfolk exercise has been in practice through countless generations, but when a torrential rain storm begins to wash up human bones down river, a fellow local named Doc Barrow (Michael Parks) begins to connect various observations together which eventually lead him to conclude that the Parker’s may have something to hide.
Beautifully captured on screen, We Are What We Are tells a complex story without gratuitous scenes of unnecessary violence in order to relay the horrific idea of cannibalism. Hats are particularly tipped to the perfectly cast actors who brilliantly enliven the screen with their nuanced performances. Actors Ambyr Childers and Julie Garner are particularly riveting to watch as they struggle with the morality of their actions against their love of family and respect for their father’s wishes.
As the subtlety of the film’s pace begins to mount towards the film’s climax Nick Damici’s screenplay will have audiences too involved in the details of the story to ponder ahead as to how the final reel will conclude. Iris and Rose will have adult decisions to make that could affect the continuation of the family bloodline and it is their actions that will fuel the more macabre and satisfying resolve.
We Are What We Are might not follow the typical road map for a conventional horror film. The screen does not soak with blood, jump scares are nearly non-existent and character development drives the film instead of simple filler between family meals.
Jim Mickle has proven for a third time that he is a force to be reckoned on the horror playing field. His ability to search out and work on good material combined with his ability to tell his story without falling to the pressure of fast audience gratification is a testament to his skills and patience behind the camera and he has quickly risen as a talent to watch going forward.