ReelReviews #6: We Are What We Are (2013)

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MARCH 14, 2014 SCREENING: WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2013)

 
Two years ago, I screened both versions of Let the Right One In – first the American remake, Let Me In (2010) and months later I watched the original Swedish film Let the Right One In (2008). I quickly concluded the American film was one my favorite horror films of all time, only to discover fans of the original Swedish version thought the American version was a pale intimation. Could I be biased because I watched the U.S. Version first? I decided to try a similar experiment last week with We Are What We Are. I had hoped to see the 2010 Mexican version first, but schedule constraints left me watching the American remake from 2013 first. Yet surprisingly, my reaction this time around wasn’t the same at all.

We Are What We Are (2012) is a modern American horror film about a family of cannibals. With the overuse of zombie and vampire films clogging the market, I thought this would be an interesting idea. Here, we essentially have real-life monsters that prey on human beings, but there’s no supernatural element involved and theoretically this could happen in a real town. What’s more, the film doesn’t tell the story of how the characters became cannibals, but gives us a whole mythology where the cannibalistic tradition of this family (the Parkers) has been handed down from generation to generation for centuries. Intriguing idea – but not so intriguing film.

I thought most the elements in this film were well done – the atmosphere, music, set design, and especially the casting was spot on. The characters are really brought to life with the actors they choose for the roles of the dominating middle aged father, his older teenage daughter that follows in his footsteps, the younger more naive daughter that wishes to escape her family life, and the innocent five year old son. Although the actress playing the younger daughter is about 22 years old, she plays a much younger character and I bought it. There’s one particularly well done suspenseful scene where glares intently at a neighbor who is asking prying questions about her including her age, and bluntly tells him she just turned 14. It’s unfortunate that the spot-on casting for this movie didn’t result in an excellent film. The problem is the execution of the rest of the movie just isn’t very good. The film uses the tired cliché of uneducated backwoods strict religious zealots in the south as a reason why the family is cannibals, and that they believe eating people is some type of thing they have to do to maintain their “purity” in some twisted “holy book” the father has. This type of premise has been used in so many R-rated horror shockers that I expected them to take it a step further and have the whole family be inbred like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or something. At the very least, I expected some kind of exciting twists to unfold and a thrill ride. There wasn’t any. Of course there was a subplot about them being investigated to drive the story, and the element that tipped people off sounded so convenient that I thought it was made up for the movie (specifically, the father and his family suffer from a rare disease that causes their fingers to twitch. A suspicious biologist in town looks up the symptoms and discovers its Kuru’s disease, which only effects people who engage in cannibalism). I googled it myself, and it turns out this a real disease – mainly found in cannibals of Papua New Guinea.

One area that really hurt is the film is that the ending really came across as forced to me. Without giving any too much detail, of course the family is discovered and escapes, the girls end up turning on their father and then bizarrely biting away at his body (which appears to be done merely for shock value, as the family had always cooked and prepared human meat in stew, not gnawed away at corpses, and certainly not their own relatives), and the final shot is the two girls driving away holding the family’s “religious” book, showing us that “the cycle will continue”. Yep, lame and predictable.

After seeing the movie, I felt “dirty” watching it. I can take a lot of gross, sick horror movies, if they have some compelling idea behind them. This one didn’t. It simply exists to gross the audience out and provide cheap scares. There’s nothing particularly bad about the movie, but there’s nothing particularly good about it, either. It uses the revolting subject matter of cannibalism to create a generic, paint-by-the-numbers horror film, and its helped along by an excellent cast, good atmosphere, and smart set designs and music. My parting thought was hoping it’s not a Let Me In situation where the American version is more polished than the foreign original. If that was the main way this film distinguished itself from the original, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing the original.

** out of ****

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