We Are What We Are (2010)

We Are What We Are is a solid piece of work but significantly lacks pace and likeability. Despite being finely created, it also suffers from being dreary and directionless. This is a missed opportunity.

When their aging patriarch dies in the street, a family of suburban cannibals are left to fend for themselves. With a reclusive, aggressive mother who refuses to hunt, the three children are left to seek out a food source. Their time is limited, however, as they need to perform their “ritual” or face dying. With the police closing in and time running out, the family soon realize how difficult finding prey can be in this dirty, modern world…

What We Are What We Are suffers from is a lack of likeability; our antagonists / protagonists are a family of sociopathic bastardized cannibals and the police detectives investigating them are pitiful fools. It makes the movie difficult to watch, compelling only in how it is shot and the fleeting wonder of where it could possibly be leading. For creatures driven by necessity, the cannibals’ survival instincts are shockingly poor, forgetting about one victim long enough for him to leg it three blocks… They are simply very dumb.

As writer / director Jorge Michel Grau’s feature film debut, We Are What We Are is impressive in some respects. There are some excellent shots, it is beautifully crafted, and the Mexico City cinematography is sublimely grimy… but it’s simply very very slow and often excessively obvious. For a horror film the pacing is very calm, often resulting in a lack of urgency, even during some of the more frenetic scenes. The violin-edge score also fails to convince, becoming irritatingly reminiscent of some cheap 70′s horror films.

Perhaps it’s an ineffectual translation, but some of Grau’s script is also diabolical, lobbing out lines like “You’re going to waste them, aren’t you?” which is jarring coming from a police detective. Luckily there are some fine performances from the main three teenage characters; Adrián Aguirre, Francisco Barreiro and Paulina Gaitan are very believable and perfectly cast, it’s just a shame the supporting cast is so silly and cardboardy.

We Are What We Are is certainly refreshing in some respects; it never reveals much about this cannibalistic family, leaving many questions after the credits have rolled. Are they entirely human? What is the ritual? What happens if they don’t eat human flesh? These pertinent, important facts are left hanging for the entire movie, and although this makes for a refreshing change to the in-your-face no surprises bullishness of modern horror film bad guys, it does leave a wide sense of dissatisfaction when you realize you have literally no clue who the main characters actually were…

Those with a more extensive knowledge of Mexican folklore will realize that Grau has given a face to the infamous Chupacabra (although no goats were sucked in the making of this movie), but this is never truly played upon, hidden instead beneath the multi-layered social statements about government and society that never quite bites down hard enough to be noticeable.

In fact, thanks to some wonky character-work, whatever messages Grau was attempting to roll into the film are lost in the cartoonish way some of the characters are portrayed – mainly the bumbling detectives and wacky morticians – as it’s so subtle and troublingly un-relatable it doesn’t make us want to understand them.

It will not appeal to the gore fans either, as the cannibalism is not as glorified and twistedly vivid as many of its sub-genre counterparts. This is a cannibal movie that focuses on the family more than the bloody, body-ripping goriness of the process of hunting, butchering and eating humans. There is blood, there is body parts, but it’s stylishly done and infrequently seen. Couple that with a slow pace and this is not one for those who prefer their horror more brutal and fast.

Conceptually We Are What We Are works, but when put in practice it fails to deliver the necessary intrigue required to hold your attention for 90 minutes. It is a slow, unlikeable but finely crafted genre piece from Mexican filmmaker Jorge Michel Grau and it deserved to be better. Watchable stuff, but hugely flawed and ultimately a little dull.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

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