In 2010, a Mexican horror film slowly spread across the world, finding praise from critics who held in the same lofty regard as Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In, another slice of foreign horror that channelled an intelligent and subtle power that was sorely lacking in American horror cinema, and would be remade in 2010 as Let Me In, a film that failed to live up to the original’s delicacy and impact. The film was Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are, and now, like Alfredson’s film, an American horror remake is upon us. However, unlike Let Me In, We Are What We Are is more than a mere remake; it is an elegant mood piece, with it’s own distinctive identity, rich with suffocating atmosphere, powered by stellar performances throughout the cast, and elevated by director Jim Mickle’s ability to channel a sense of dread and discomfort about American identity and the state of the nation.

We Are What We Are is the story of the Parker Family. During a vicious storm, the matriarch of the family is killed after collapsing and drowning in a puddle of filthy rainwater. After this tragedy, the family unit begins to slowly disintegrate as the domineering Father starts to break down, leaving his daughters Iris and Rose to look after their younger brother, Rory, and keep the life moving forward. However, the passing of their mother also means the girls must inherit a far more grisly duty, one that threatens to consume them, and test the bonds of their family in the face of the darkest of human acts.

The film’s narrative is horrifically dark and brooding, focusing predominantly on the two Parker girls and their descent as they confront the sins of their parents. In my opinion, the best way to enjoy this film is to avoid any promotional material, and watch the film completely unaware of the terrible secret of the Parker family…although it is safe to say, that it is a shocking and disgusting one. However, the narrative is much more than just a horror film about a corrupted family; rather, at its core, this is a film about the horrors that lurk within the depths of traditional American values (the family, community, religion etc.) and the darker side of American history, twisted into an abomination, clashing violently against a modern context it has no place within, like a cancer sucking the life out of the Parkers, reflected in the physical deterioration and deathly pallor of all the family members.

We-Are-What-We-AreThe entire cast of the film deliver tremendous performances, especially the members of the Parker family. Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner, as Iris and Rose Parker respectively, are the emotional core of the film. These two young actresses deliver beautifully assured performances that articulate the death of their innocence at the hands of the overwhelming guilt and internal suffering of their family’s actions, while still managing to express a unity and a love for each other that is tender and honest. Bill Sage dominates as the Patriarch of the Parker Family, Frank Parker, a reprehensible and complex figure who is both a callous villain and victim of inherited beliefs and disease. Sage uses a subtle blend of juxtapositions (a powerful physicality and a sickly vulnerability; venomous screams and whispers words of love and support) to absolutely articulate the manipulative power and deadly threat of this disturbed and memorable human monster. Iconic character actor Michael Parks’ performance as the town doctor, Doc Barrow, whose daughter went missing years ago and begins to suspect all is not right with the Parker clan, also deserves attention for its subtly and honesty. Parks imbues Barrow with a combination of gentility and determination that makes him the perfect foil for Sage’s deteriorating Frank, and reflects the classic conflict between belief and science, one that only reinforces the sense of the Parker’s dislocation and poisonous presence in this time of great confusion and darkness.

Director Jim Mickle takes the promise he showed in the flawed but ambitious apocalyptic vampire film, Stakeland, and delivers a measured, aesthetically beautiful film that is distinctive and perfectly reflects the darkness and unrest that threaten to consume the Parker family as their family façade cracks under the weight of their true natures and desire to break away from this horrifying truth. Mackie was an inspirited choice of director for this film as he previously illustrated an uncanny ability to explore the darkness in the American consciousness and the dislocation of community across the American landscape. In We Are What We Are, Mackie is able to reflect the internal darkness and anger bubbling beneath of the surface of the Parker Family through the specific textures of the spaces they occupy, often contained within closed spaces, shot through windows or doorframes whose rigidity constrains against the growing disillusionment and seething rage of the young Parker girls. In particular, the dinner sequence the film builds towards is an absolutely gripping and revolting example of the subtle horror that makes the film so affective; the shots of the thick brown stew the family eats, full of congealed meat, reflecting the family’s corruption and sins, while their period clothing reinforces the sense of dislocation within modern America, and the illusion of an idealised American past.

In the film’s stunning finale, Mickle reveals the true resonance of the film’s title, in a haunting and poetic fashion that shocks and unnerves as the Parker family is forever changed, with one generation violently consuming another, leaving the audience reeling right up to the final image where the future is once again haunted by the past, forever corrupted by the burden of ancestral tradition and the manipulated ideas of the heritage and purity of the American past.

We Are What We Are is a beautiful and barbaric poem, that cuts deep into the heart of American values and history, by manipulating them into something abhorrent and dangerous, but painfully honest and human. Mickle has crafted one of the best horror remakes of recent times, by re-imagining the original film through the lens of the American gothic, delivering a sincere and disturbing study of a family being destroyed by the sickness and secrets passed on from generation to generation. This is a sublime horror tragedy that grabs you with its vision, precision and atmosphere, and only increases the pressure until the explosive finale.

VERDICT: [rating=4]

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk