Monday 17 March 2014

Review: We Are What We Are

Year: 2013 (U.K Release 2014)
Director:  Jim Mickle
Screenplay:  Jim Mickle, Nick Damici
Starring:  Bill Sage, Julia Garner, Amber Childers, Kelly McGillis

Synopsis is here

It is more than a little strange seeing the 2010 Mexican horror; We Are What We Are, as a U.S remake. Mostly because of just how odd the original actually is. For a film about a family of cannibals, it’s not particularly that interested in the eating. Essentially the film is more about the disintegration of a family unit in abject poverty.

If you came out of Jim Mickle’s vampire road movie Stake Land feeling a little spoilt, then one can see you finishing this a tad disappointed. A fellow writer friend of mine stated that Mickle’s reimagining has an agenda to and the film clearly admits this with its gender switching antics and more explicit touches on religion.  You can sense the film’s wryness with its cast, which harks back to Red State and Martha Marcy May Marlene. Yet the original was a leaner beast that wore its ragged edges proudly. While Mickle’s U.S version is a more polished creature, it’s a tad more conventional one with it.

The story remains largely the same; the authority of a poor, cannibalistic family passes away suddenly and the remaining members struggle to maintain a sense of order. Mickle switches the family loss from a patriarchal one to matriarch.  There’s also an alteration of the children so there’s now two brooding sisters and a younger brother, as opposed to the conflicting brothers and single sister from before. This change is a grander one than expected. No longer do we have the Cain and Abel dynamic that was infused within the original feature. Also by decreasing the age of the youngest child, we no longer have the tense conflicts that were placed up by the three siblings. Mickle and fellow Stake Land writer Nick Damici bring more focus to the world around the family along with the more typical clashes of female puberty and daddy daughter issues.

The changes bring mixed results. While the original film is a more abstract affair, we now have less complicated mechanics. Less is left up to suggestion with Mickle’s film interspersing more back story to bring clarity for viewers who like to dismiss the ambiguous. Mickle maintains the same methodical pace from before, while confidently building a new version of an old world with his regular cinematographer Ryan Samul. The films overcast portrait of Middle America makes a worthy companion piece to the ravaged world of Stake Land. While the adjustments to the source and more emphasis on outside characters trying to figure out the mystery give We Are What We Are a more customary feel, you certainly can’t fault the acting on show. Whether it’s the intense glare of Bill Sage or the haunted visages of both Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers, the film’s performances are quietly captivating.

We Are What We Are remains a largely effective piece that brings a considerable amount of dread to proceedings. Despite being a remake, Mickles film still stands out among the current found footage haunting and sometimes maddening post modern fare. While it lacks the same peculiarities which made the original film what it is, Mickle once creates again American myth with a decent measure of atmosphere.