We Are What We Are, a somewhat lengthy movie title, is [just] that. A slow burn, a very slow burn and lengthy movie that sometimes loses it’s way in campiness and tropes, but in the end finds it’s footing in a horribly disturbing and peaceful way. The combination of these two elements makes it work the whole way through, and is put to good use as the driving force behind all the most salient moments. The ending delivers what I can only describe as a serene tragedy, a bubble of peacefulness as two girls perform a horrid act. This movie isn’t for everyone, it certainly isn’t for you if you can’t deal with cannibalism, blood and a little gore, or the long play. It’s a slow burn that may feel like it gets you no where, or it may put you in a place you don’t want to be. Either way, if you can deal with it, it’s worth a watch even if not the best thing out there. – 3.5/5 (genre)
We Are What We Are is what…no I can’t, that’s just too bad a joke. But in all seriousness what it is is a very slow burn, steady paced disturbing movie. While most of the movie for most may feel a bit too slow and even a bit too obvious, let’s be honest we know where things are going for the first half of the movie, then we think we know where it’s going for the last half, this still doesn’t mitigate its truly disturbing nature.
The movie opens with Mrs. Parker (Kassie Wesley DePaiva), the mother of two girls, Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner), and a young boy Rory (Jack Gore). She goes into town at the onset of a bad storm, as they live outside of town, and goes into a store to buy supplies that would seemingly be necessary for riding out said storm. On her way out she stops and looks at the missing notices for people on a bulletin board before suddenly coughing up blood and stumbling about. Honestly, at this point I was pretty certain I was lied to in the description and that I had just stumbled into a zombie movie. Even after she falls and hits her head, and lands in the pooling water nearby, I fully expected her to rise back up and start attacking people, trying to eat them. It didn’t happen, well not the coming back from the dead, but the eating people, well that does.
The girls come into town after their father is notified of his wife’s death to identify the body, and Iris being the oldest does so. The doctor, Dr. Barrow (Michael Parks), determines that she suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and I think concludes this lead to her fall and drowning. We find out that the family is in the middle of a three day fast that is a tradition they’ve had for more than 200 years, before the day they call “Lamb’s Day”. There’s a lot of religion and bible thumping going on from the father, mostly I think to used by the plot as a justification for their actions, but we find out the real reasons when Iris has to take over the roll of their mother for Lamb’s Day.
Their family arrived in the area in the late 1700’s, I’m not exactly sure where they are as I don’t think that’s specifically said or I missed it, and had to endure a particularly bad winter. They ran out of food, and when the mother died the father at the time made the eldest daughter remove the flesh from her body and they ate it to survive. She says that what she did she did with love. The calm, steady delivery is unnerving, as one can truly see she believes she did do it with love. There are obvious Donner party overtones here, and they aren’t subtle about it, at least not the history. Except instead of a mountain pass it was a cave, and only one person eaten. This became the tradition, fast for three days and then sacrifice a person, the lamb, and eat them. It was the mother or eldest daughters responsibility to kill the person, and cook them for the breaking of the fast.
Now that their mother is dead it falls to Iris to take care of this tradition and their father Mr. Parker (Bill Sage) makes sure that she does. Though mostly through intimidation since he is suffering from the more advanced stages of creutzfeldt-jakob disease (Prions), or Kuru. If you don’t know what that is here is a link to the wiki. Though this all takes place during the first half of the movie, I haven’t really given anything away as it isn’t hidden or a lead up at all in the movie, and in fact this is just the preface for what’s to come. The doctor’s dog finds a bone after the flooding from the storm that washed downstream, and he’s certain that it is a human bone, which prompts him to do his own investigation (with the help of Deputy Anders (Wyatt Russell)), since his daughter disappeared years ago and was never found.
The opening to the movie is very atmospheric, almost peaceful and serene, and that’s actually something that continues throughout as a common theme. While I’m sure there were moments when the music did crescendo they were rare and barely noticeable as most the horrible events took place with a casualness one wouldn’t expect. I thought this was one of the strengths of the movie, as it gave a feeling of almost normalcy to the horrible things being done. The acting is actually pretty strong, particularly Ambyr Childers (Iris) and Julia Garner (Rose). In the early portions it looks as if Iris is the strongest of the children and able to handle anything that happens, especially during the killing. But as the movie progresses, she becomes weaker and weaker, succumbing to their Father’s will and the traditions of their family, or more surrendering to them. It’s actually Rose that stands out as the strongest of them, despite starting out as the younger sister who relied on her older sister for nearly everything. This switch was excellent, and the interplay between the two actors was very good and always felt genuine. Rory had too few lines and was a bit too young to make any calls on his acting.
Mr. Parker was well balanced on the edge of bat-shit crazy (sorry) and an actual concerned father looking out for the welfare of his children and family first. The crazy wins out, but the acting and writing to walk that line for as long as he did was good, not quite as strong as the girls but still good. The remaining characters felt like cardboard cutouts that were there to fill in as props around the family, what others there were anyway. The next door neighbor who lived in the families trailer park I believe was just a little too campy for me, and the same goes for Anders. The dopey all in love with Iris boy who just got back from training to become a police officer, and actually asks Iris out one day after her mothers death. Dr. Barrow was just a plot pushing element that could have been filled by actual plot movement, but with him in it. Instead, his “investigation” drives forward the events that lead to the ending, and I think this could have been done a lot better. When he confronts Mr. Parker about his daughter I just wasn’t convinced that he was really upset enough to kill the man (not saying that he did, just that was supposed to be his intent). And of course there were the backwater, ignorant cops who didn’t take anything seriously because those kinds of things don’t happen in small towns. Ugh, tropes.
This movie is filled with a lot of disturbing moments, not all of which revolved around the cannibalism (guess I hadn’t said that directly yet but there you go). The sex scene in the grave yard was nearly just as disturbing, I mean I get Iris picking the moment but maybe we could move away from all the graves and not get going on top of them. But what do I know, I’m not 18 anymore. Mr. Parker flailing about in the river trying to catch the bones of who knows how many bodies before they went downstream could go either way for people. It could seems sad, it could seem comical, and it could seem disturbing, but at any rate it was a turning point for the story.
The ending was disturbingly (trending I know) serene, through all the excessive brutality of it, it felt as calm as watching a river pass by. It moved the feeling of being unsettled to a new level, and frankly the last few moments of the movie are it’s strongest. You easily see what’s coming, what Rose is going to have to do, but the way actually caught me by surprise. I guess I got zombieness after all, except she was fully cognizant of what she was doing. It was the bubble of peacefulness surrounding the whole thing that made it work, lots of music or over the top effects would have ruined it completely, but the intermittent growling from Rose and Iris being nearly (nearly I say) the only sound made it unique. I was even a little caught off guard to find that I found a bit of satisfaction and poetic justice in it. We’ve all (likely) seen the characters of TWD walking about covered in blood, but these two girls really owned the entire moment, and somehow never lose your empathy.
We Are What We Are, a somewhat lengthy movie title, is that. A slow burn, very slow burn and lengthy movie that sometimes loses it’s way in campiness and tropes, but in the end finds it’s footing in a horribly disturbing and peaceful way. The combination of these two elements makes it work the whole way through, and is put to good use as the driving force behind all the most salient moments. The ending delivers what I can only describe as a serene tragedy, a bubble of peacefulness as two girls perform a horrid act. This movie isn’t for everyone, it certainly isn’t for you if you can’t deal with cannibalism, blood and a little gore, or the long play. It’s a slow burn that may feel like it gets you no where, or it may put you in a place you don’t want to be. Either way, if you can deal with it, it’s worth a watch even if not the best thing out there.
Overall: 3.5/5 (genre)