Review: We Are What We Are (2013)


Director: Jim Mickle | 100 minutes | drama, horror, thriller | Actors: Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Laurent Rejto, Julia Garner, Ambyr Childers, Jack Gore, Bill Sage, Kelly McGillis, Wyatt Russell, Michael Parks, Annemarie Lawless, Traci Hovel, Nat DeWolf, Nick Damici, Vonia Arslanian, Larry Fessenden, Odeya Rush , Joel Nagle, Reagan Leonard, IN Sierros

There are actors and actresses who are very popular for a very short time, only to fall into obscurity. Take Kelly McGillis, who broke through in the mid-1980s alongside Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in “Top Gun” (1986) and whose image has graced many boys’ rooms. A great career lay ahead for her, but her bad experiences while filming “Cat Chaser” (1989) kept her from really going for it. In the nineties she sporadically appeared in TV movies (which, incidentally, did not include anything worth mentioning) and at the beginning of the 21st century she even completely disappeared from the picture. In 2007 she suddenly reappeared in a straight-to-DVD horror flick by Roger Corman, but it was director Jim Mickle who finally convinced her to make a comeback. She seems to be confined to horror films, as her most recent films are “Stake Land” (2010), “The Innkeepers” (2011) and “We Are What We Are” (2013).

The latter film, directed by Mickle (who also wrote the script together with Nick Damici), is a remake of the very poorly received Mexican film ‘Somos lo que hay’ from 2010. In that film, the shabby and dark depths of the big city set, Mickle moved the story to the desolate countryside in upstate New York. The area is plagued by heavy rainfall and storms. McGillis plays the down-to-earth neighbor of the Parker family, who have rather sinister traditions. Unlike the Mexican original, here it is not the father but mother Emma (Kassie DePaiva) who tragically dies while shopping. The devout father Frank (Bill Sage) is broken, but refuses to give up the traditions that have been held by the family for centuries. Teenage daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) now have to take their mother’s place – preparing the traditional family dinner – and it’s hard for them. Meanwhile, local family doctor Doc Barrow (Michael Parks) discovers strange cases surrounding Emma Parker’s death. He investigates and enlists the help of new-born Deputy Sheriff Anders (Wyatt Russell), who has his eye on Iris and loves to poke around the Parkers’ property.

Three-quarters of the time, “We Are What We Are” mainly relies on its ominous atmosphere. Although it soon becomes clear what the Parker family is doing, Mickle knows how to keep the attention on the ball due to his slow build-up, gothic ambiance and mysterious setting. This is partly due to the dark, hypothermic camera work and the threatening score. Fans of the more traditional straightforward horror may find it boring, because little blood is spilled at first. It seems that at the end of the ride Mickle still wanted to give in to this group of movie viewers, because in the last twenty minutes he makes up for the “damage” and it still gets pretty bloody. Due to the great contrast, it seems as if the final chord came from another film. The film is supported by the fine cast, with Bill Sage as father Frank Parker in the lead. On the one hand, you feel sorry for him after the death of his wife. On the other hand, he knows how to scare the hell out of you. Childers and Garner also look good. The decoration of “We Are What We Are” is beautifully nostalgic (the clothes the family wears during the Sunday meal, for example, but also the old folk songs that play in the background when they sit at the table).

It is amazing how ‘We Are What We Are’ manages to build the story up to a bloody climax with drama elements. However, that final chord contrasts so much with the rest of the film that it actually detracts from the film as a whole. That does not alter the fact that this is an intriguing genre film, in which people act well for a change. For lovers of atmospheric horror.

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