BY EMILY GAGNE
Graveyard sex. People stew. Two sisters fighting tooth, nail and bone for their lives. We Are What We Are has everything a Fille could want in what could be the most beautifully haunting movie of the year.
Although technically based on an already existing Mexican film of the same name, We Are What We Are is a true original, providing gasp-, jump- and swoon-worthy twists to a genre that is making a slow, but steady comeback: the cannibal film. I will admit that I haven’t seen its predecessor (Somos lo que hay), but from what I know of it, the only similarities are in the base plot, which follows a family of ritualistic people-eaters and the children who have to take over the revolting legacy.
In the original film, the father died, leaving two young sons to do what he once did for his wife and children: lure innocent bystanders away, kill them and cook them up for — what else? — dinner. But this version offers an even more compelling twist, with Parker clan matriarch Emma perishing suddenly and the living parent, a terrifyingly sincere Bill Sage as Frank, forcing his two teenage girls, Rose (Julia Garner, Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Iris (Ambyr Childers, 2 Guns), to step up to the human blood-stained familial plate. Yeah–a female coming of age tale hasn’t been quite this bloody since the original Carrie.
What’s really impressive about We Are What We Are is that although there certainly are some graphic scenes, including an ending that shocked a generally unshockable audience Thursday night, they are side dishes to the real meal that is this film: the bond of sisterhood. Garner and Childers have such a natural chemistry that makes it easy to believe they would do anything for one another, even that requires going against everything the rest of their family has been living, breathing and eating for centuries. Rose and Iris may tiptoe around Sage’s Frank, playing the part of the doting kids, but underneath their half-smiles and strangely period clothes, they are incredibly strong, independently thinking and fearless women. With Garner and Childers and their incredibly emotive baby blues at their helms, Rose and Iris’s only real weakness is their love for each other, and that, in itself, gorgeous.
Further contributing to the beauty of We Are What We Are is the art direction, which turns modern day upstate New York into a picture perfect pastoral version of perpetual pathetic fallacy. Save for the sole truly hopeful moment of the film (and even that gets drenched in tragedy), the skies are almost as clouded as the Parkers’ judgement. Then there’s the centre piece of the film, the Parkers’ weathered wooden kitchen table, which almost serves as its own character–it’s it is the only sturdy thing left in Frank, Iris, Rose and little Rory’s (Jack Gore) crumbling life. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the score and soundtrack, which is filled with creeping country tracks sure to rattle your already-shaking bones to their core.
I could go on and on about this movie, which I would honestly scarf down like a bowl of non-human chilli again right now if I could, but for your sake and schedule, I won’t. I’ll just leave you with this fact: during the post screening Q&A, director Jim Mickle (Stake Land) noted that Jorge Michel Grau, the man behind the Mexican version, was so impressed with the remake he’s already working on his own film featuring Mickle’s characters.
Just goes to show that you don’t have to follow the traditions stacked up before you to find the way. Your way. The better way.
Follow Emily’s coverage of the 2013 Toronto After Dark Film Festival through Oct. 25.