In my five decades, I’ve watched an awful lot of horror films. I’m not boasting because would that really be something worth boasting about? Rather I’m only trying to point out that it’s grown increasingly difficult these last few years to legitimately shock me when it comes to anything new or groundbreaking when it comes to a good horror movie. I have favorites, and I think I also (like so many) have a solid grasp of what makes for a good scare, but, as hard as the cast and crew of WE ARE WHAT WE ARE tried, I think they missed the recipe not so much by a mile as they did by a few rare pieces of raw meat.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
By appearances, the Parkers would seem to be your average American backwoods family. They’re quiet. They’re reserved. They keep to themselves. They have beliefs in God, and old man Parker can even quote scriptures. Yet beneath that superficial homespun veneer there lurks a deep secret, one that only a freak flood of Biblical proportions will bring to light. And once it’s out there, they’re risk life, liberty, and their own bizarre pursuit of happiness to keep one another safe … and within the good graces of whatever God they worship.
Hollywood has a way of thumbing its nose at middle America that’s on full display in WE ARE WHAT WE ARE. Writers, producers, and directors tend to gravitate toward projects that thematically take mainstream American values and then twists them into something few of us could recognize much less give out support to. One of the most bastardized concepts is faith or, more specifically, religion. Let’s say it isn’t necessarily the Catholic system or the Protestant system or the Methodist system; let’s just agree it’s anything that involves any version of the Bible and agree at that. These Tinseltown elitists will take any swipe at folks who live their lives by a creed, and that’s the chief complaint I have with Jim Mickle’s otherwise impressive film: you could’ve taken faith entirely out of the equation, and you still could’ve/would’ve/should’ve had a functioning idea involving one family tree and its bizarre tradition. Involving scriptures? Well, that’s just icing on Hollywood’s cake!
To be fair, this may not be all of Mickle’s doing, as the advertising materials clearly explain that Mickle and Nick Damici adapted Jorge Michel Grau’s screenplay, ‘Somos Lo Que Hay,’ for WE ARE WHAT WE ARE. However, the fact that they were either specifically drawn to this material or decided to utilize it to make the thematic point essentially solidifies my argument.
Removing religion from the story and amplifying the ritual aspect to the tale may even have benefitted the elements. That way, their dedication to an act of cannibalism that occurred out of necessity centuries earlier may even have appeared more macabre. Instead, they take an easy and all-too-predictable way out. For shame.
Additionally, there’s a decided lack of a protagonist in the tale. When you have a veritable family of killers, it’d be comforting for the viewing audience to know that someone outside of their influence is truly looking on, studying what’s been happening in the area, and maybe even tracking how many women have gone missing (the town physician/coroner just stumbles across it, further indicting the middle American legal system that generally solves these things before they get this far out of hand). Granted, in the final quarter of the film, Dr. Barrow (played by veteran Michael Parks) kinda/sorta fits that bill; but by then, even he’s acting outside his normal sphere of influence, and he’s reduced to yet another bitter parent who acts on a mission of vengeance instead of doing what’s best for the community.
I get that Hollywood has lost touch with the American heartland, but do they have to cast stones at them every chance they get?
Lastly, the script has enough plot holes in it to drive several pick-up trucks through, though only one or two trucks are committed to celluloid. How is it law enforcement remained completely unaware of thirty missing persons in the same area of the state? Who the heck was Mrs. Stratton? What ‘act of kindness’ did Marge (a desperately under-used Kelly McGillis) serve upon the homicidal Mr. Parker? Why did Iris secretly sneak a knife into her pocket when she went out into the woods with the prying deputy if she didn’t plan to use it? I could go on, but methinks you get the drift.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2013) is produced by Belladonna Productions, Memento Films International, Uncorked Productions, Venture Forth, and The Zoo. DVD distribution is being handled through Entertainment One (aka E One). As for the technical specifications, this is one very well produced film, and the highest quality sight and sound definitely contribute to its consistent and rising dread. Lastly, the disc boasts a handful of special features, including a making-of short, cast and crew interviews, and an audio commentary with the cast and crew.
RECOMMENDED. WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is an effectively creepy flick. It establishes some modest parameters very early on in the picture, and it never really strays from them … and that’s the greatest disappointment to it all. What could’ve been a complex and tightly-woven scarefest instead descends into more of the usual Hollywood insults veiled in the guise of modestly budgeted horror film that received accolades from the nitwits who sponsor Sundance Film Festival? Still, it’s efficiently made, so director Mickle and his cast have that going for them. There’s nothing wrong with this as a one-off film, but, in my opinion, it has very little re-watch value.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Entertainment (aka E One) provided me with an advance DVD copy of WE ARE WHAT WE ARE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.