May 7, 2011


I found the experience of We Are What We Are to be similar to that of Rubber, in that it didn't deliver the B-movie thrills I was half expecting. It instead was a family drama about a family unit dealing with the recent death of their bread winner father. The family just happen to be cannibals. The expectations I had for it were something more along the lines of Romero’s Day of the Dead: a message or theme within the horror.

Please don’t mistake that for criticism of the film, I’m merely trying to give the context within which I viewed it and am now discussing it. As a family drama, it works quite well. We open with the father stumbling through a high end shopping mall, being shooed away by shop assistants as he stares at the mannequins. He's obviously on the lower end of the social and economic spectrums. He promptly collapses, vomiting up blood, all but ignored by the shoppers around him but promptly tidied away by the cleaners. Heaven forbid we let a little thing like a corpse disturb the shopping nirvana! 

Once the already high strung family discover the fate of poor papa, the wheels slowly but inexorably start to come off this tight family unit. And they're not tight because they're so close to one another, no they're forced together in an "us vs. the world" mentality. This is a dysfunctional family with a dark secret, hiding out in the slums of a Mexican city. With the death of the patriarch, it's up to his two sons; the elder, quiet, over-thinking and closeted Alfredo and his short-tempered, violent younger brother. Quietly pulling their strings is their sister Sheila, as their mother works herself up into hysteria, berates all her children and locks herself in her room. The boys are sent out on a couple of failed hunts; it's tough being a growing young cannibal in the city. Mishaps and violent hijinks ensue. 

The film is obviously shot on digital and director Jorge Michel Grau and cinematographer Santiago Sanchez really make it work. This is a dark, dark film not afraid to go into the shadows. And while some things become difficult to make out, it really serves to make the whole work (especially scenes in the family's house, made to feel like a wild animal's den) that bit creepier. Grau gives the film a measured pace, giving us time with all of these characters and it doesn't usually slow too much. He's obviously taking a firm aim at Mexican social inequality, in between the family drama and tension. It's a film that dares to be something different and original and I applaud it for that. It's far from perfect, and didn't deliver on either the messy horror or black comedy I was expecting.

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