We Are What We Are (2013)

Directed By: Jim Mickle
Written By: Nick Damici
  Jim Mickle
Starring: Julia Garner
  Ambyr Childers
  Bill Sage
  Kelly McGillis
We Are What We Are

Remakes are so ubiquitous at the moment, particularly in horror, that they’re often dismissed as trash long before they’ve hit theatres, while low-budget features barely even get a look in – understandably so, when dross like Carrie is competing against indie flicks that never even get a shot at the box office, who’s going to stick up for it?

Every once in a while, a gem presents itself out of nowhere, shutting up even the most cynical fan. 2012’s Elijah Wood shocker Maniac was a case in point and arguably the best example to date as it managed not just to stake a claim for the original film –and for giving certain, noteworthy movies the remake treatment, instead of just the obvious choices – but by actually surpassing what came before it.

Thankfully, yet still somewhat shockingly, Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are – a remake of the so-so 2010, Spanish language thriller Somos Lo Que Hay – is more of the same, a surprisingly effective, thrilling, frightening and very well made film that far surpasses its predecessor’s more modest intentions, without succumbing to the usual Hollywood conventions of more gore, more jump scares, more everything.

Following the cannibalistic Parker family, We Are What We Are opens as the matriarch dies of an unknown illness in the street, leaving her two daughters (played by relative newcomers Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers, both excellent) to take over and support their twisted father (the superbly frightening Bill Sage). The action moves to the backwoods of rural America, with the family following ancient customs, as opposed to just killing and eating people for fun/out of necessity.

Michael Parks, whose most recent genre stint was in Kevin Smith’s religious shocker Red State (which this film echoes in part), is the local doctor who notices something fishy is going on, while another relative newcomer Wyatt Russell is the law enforcement agent in training who takes an unfortunate fancy to the eldest daughter.

A solid cast of strong, capable performers (most of whom are relatively new faces) ensures this isn’t simply being a by-the-numbers cannibal shocker. The action is rooted in normal, everyday routine, with most of the horror coming from inside the family as Sage’s demented patriarch struggles to control his wayward daughters.

The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous throughout, the small town shot like it’s a hellhole in the middle of nowhere, where there’s no escape, even from the neighbours. Everything is rain-drenched instead of sun-soaked as it was with the original which lends a darker, far more hopeless edge to the proceedings.

Although it’s divided up into days, giving the narrative less fluidity, the remake is a lot rougher, grislier and at times more obvious – not necessarily to its detriment, either – than the original film. There are far more shocks and scares to be had here, especially in the long-awaited, suitably disgusting, dinner sequence and the tension is palpable throughout, especially when the kids try to make a run for it at one stage.

The fact that the Parkers are a well-liked part of the community, right down to a kindly neighbour who pops in to check on them from time to time, somehow makes them more frightening. And, although much is shown – flashback sequences to flesh out their back-story are a bit too expository, and unnecessary given how strong the story is in its own right – the word “cannibalism” isn’t spoken once, only shown in text in a book, which furthers the creepy atmosphere.

A climactic dinner sequence is incredibly tense, wonderfully gory and incredibly shocking, while the ending, much like the original film, is suggestive but not enough of a cliff-hanger to feel as though a follow-up is necessary, or that the whole story isn’t being told. It’s wrapped up the same way as it begins, with intrigue, mystery and suspense.

As remakes go, We Are What We Are is easily one of the strongest in recent memory. In fact, it’s an incredible film in its own right – smart, tense, and very, very scary with memorable performances and a doom-laden, gloomy, hopeless atmosphere epitomised by constant, and at times, torrential rain.

A must-see for even the most cynical, remake-bashing horror fan, it makes a case for more intelligent, challenging reboots in future and is an impressive, very inventive addition to the genre in its own right.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

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