We Are What We Are Reviews
Let yourself be bitten by these cannibals, it certainly deserves a viewing.
There's a theater near me called the Capitol. It's one of the great commercial bastions of actual honest-to-pete art in Cleveland (if you want a good art film and it's not playing at the Capitol, you're going to have to wait for it to hit the Cleveland Institute of Art-funded Cinematheque or head way into the Eastern suburbs to the Cedar Lee Theatre). One of the best things about the Capitol is that, with the help of IFC and melt Bar and Grilled, they have pretty much singlehandedly revived the midnight movie tradition for movies other then the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Last night was interesting: IFC was running Somos Lo Que Hay while Melt was running Say Anything.... I like Say Anything... a great deal, but I've seen it many times, and I believe in Mae West's immortal quote: "between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before." The audience for Say Anything... was overflowing; the entire lobby was packed. That for the Cleveland premiere of Somos Lo Que Hay? Ten. I counted. Choosing the evil you've never tried before, one thinks, is becoming a lost art.
The good news: Jorge Michel Grau, who has been wowing the underground horror community with fun shorts for years now, has finally made himself a feature film. (Whether he is related to the Jorge Grau who directed such seventies cult horror standards as The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue I do not know.) This is good news because Grau has a fine eye for some of the subtler features of filmmaking, as well as a good sense of how to flesh out an onscreen character, and when you combine those two things, it's pretty difficult to come up with a completely bad film, no matter how micro your budget may be, as long as you get competent actors. The bad news is, Jorge Michel Grau has finally made a feature film, and that's because he didn't translate well from shorts to full-length, but more on that later.
We open with the scion of a family (Amor's Humberto Yáñez) dying in a Mexico City mall. His body is spirited away by mall staff, a janitor is immediately on the scene to clean up the blood he's vomited on the pavement, and less than a minute later, no one knows the incident even occurred. You were looking for a black comedy? That's about as black as it gets; it's vaguely reminiscent of what Terry Gilliam might have done had Brazil been a gore film. We cut to a family living in a small apartment in the projects, and we are immediately given to understand, through the magic of shot juxtaposition, that he is the father of this clan: mother Patricia (Before Night Falls' Carmen Beato), older brother Alfredo (Perpetuum Mobile's Francisco Barriero), sister Sabina (Sin Nombre's Paulina Gaitan), and younger brother... I cannot for the life of me remember his name, and IMDB is failing me. It begins with a J an d ends with an o and I'm 99% sure it is not Javiero, which is what my brain keeps telling me. In any case, the boy is played by the late Alan Chávez, killed in a shootout in Mexico City shortly after the film was shot. (And since I saw this on the big screen, I can't simply go back to the DVD and check.) In any case, the family is now at loose ends as to what to find for dinner tomorrow. Which is a problem, as it turns out, because the family are cannibals. And it's not at all long before we discover why the death of their father hits so hard, aside from the obvious; the four remaining members of the clan are pretty much helpless when it comes to hunting for food. Much of the rest of the film, which takes place over the next couple of days, is focused on Alfredo's increasingly desperate attempts to feed his family. There's a subplot involving a couple of fifth-rate cops trying to figure out where the finger discovered in dad's stomach at the autopsy came from that's there pretty much for comic relief.
And what's here is good. At least one reviewer called it "the best film [he'd] seen so far in 2010" (at twitchfilm) and compared it to Låt den Rätte Komma In. On the other hand, I've seen a lot of people compare it (and not favorably) to the mediocre After Dark Horrorfest entry The Hamiltons form a few years back, and yes, there are similarities, though I'm not sure there's enough to say there's anything more than an influence here. (That influence is, however, undeniable.) But just because film A is influenced by film B does not make film A necessarily inferior, and such is not the case here; Grau takes that premise and loads it up with all sorts of subtle wonderment and far, far better camerawork than in that other flick. Grau's camerawork is so claustrophobic that even the father's death at the beginning-the only shot in the film outside during the day-almost chokes the viewer with its closeness. Also of note, and I wish I knew more about this guy so I could expound for a while, is a fantastic soundtrack from a chap named Enrico Chapela, who understands more about dissonance and noise than perhaps any other composer I've heard in a feature film (the arguable exception would be Graeme Revell when he's in a bad mood and reverts to the SPK days).
On the other hand there's all the stuff that's kind of hinted at but then never goes anywhere. The sexual tension within the family is ratcheted up about twenty minutes into the film, and for the rest of it you can tell there's an incestuous love triangle just bursting to find its way out of Grau's head and onto the screen, but it never shows up despite a couple of scenes that stop a knife's blade away. And while the characters are fleshed out, the plot is skinny enough that the movie does feel as if it's a touch too long. But instead of wanting the movie to be shorter, I wanted Grau to explore more about the cops, or more about the plot points that never show up, or even more about the awesome guys in the funeral home who appear for only a single scene. Grau only scratches the surface, and it's frustrating. But it's beautifully shot and well-acted, which makes it a refreshing change from the vast majority of Hollywood horror films of the recent past. *** 1/2
And WAWWA is most definitely a horror film, despite some reviewers insistence on calling it another kind of movie "with trappings." Its impoverished Mexico City cannibal family may not be human at all, or under some sort of otherworldly curse, anyway, if taken at their word. (Hell, they may not even be cannibals: dunno if Grau is riffing on Bunuel or not, but...they never do manage to complete their religious rite and *eat.*)
The film flags a bit whenever it leaves the family for a subplot about inept, corrupt cops looking to make a name and a media bundle on the bizarre case, but for the most part deftly weaves its bloody horrors with the more realistic terrors of a wildly dysfunctional family whose last pin just got pulled.
We Are What We Are is that rarity: a horror film that is not at all entertaining, to anybody, on purpose. It's a cannibal movie with no cannibalism in it, and the kind of film that manages to find its greatest moments of despair in a stranger's kindly offered message: "You are alive." They just do not make enough horror movies like this one.
It's hard for every family to make ends meet when the breadwinner passes away... harder for some families than the others!! If you ask me cannibalism falls under another form of minority in this society filled with minorities who lead a harder life than most, although cannibalism would be a weird one!!
Don't all humans feed on others? Isn't it the minority who faces the most troubled in life?
The movie made me forget how I felt about different believes and engage in the problem any lifestyle brings on its members.
I thought the messages behind the film were handled well - not preachy or emotionally manipulative. Some may prefer their horror without commentary on family and tradition, but even if those elements didn't work for you this can still be effective.