There’s something to be said for approaching a controversial subject with subtlety and restraint. The cannibals in horror movies are typically monstrous taking joy in their murders with no compassion for their victims. In ‘We Are What We Are’, even though cannibalism is at the centre of the narrative it is like nothing put on Toronto screens before (with the exception of the Spanish film on which it’s based).
The Parkers are quiet and keep to themselves, but no one would ever connect them to the string of disappearances that has plagued the community for decades. An unexpected change in the family’s circumstances forces sisters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) to assume some unwelcome duties in their atypical household. But a torrential downpour is threatening to unearth the Parkers’ oldest and darkest secret, while the girls work up to defying their father’s authority.
Though the killing and eating of innocent people underlies most conversations in the film, it is not at the forefront of most scenes. There is no bloody depiction of the murder or disassembly of the body à la ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’; just an understanding that it is the protein in the stew they are serving. Any of the violence related to their traditions occur off-screen. Instead, the focus is on how this lifestyle informs their family dynamic and the variation of their attitudes towards it. The most visually shocking moment is reserved until the very end.
Prescribed by a three-hundred-year-old religion, patriarch Frank (Bill Sage) never considers the external morality of their actions because those people’s lives are required to fulfill their obligation to God and prove their devotion. It’s amazing he was able to convert his wife to such a controversial belief system, but each generation has successfully indoctrinated a new member through marriage.
The dark cloud that looms over their home is always present, emphasized by the rain and eerie soundtrack. Living on the edge of town, they have little interaction with other people though those are generally without incident. This isolation allows the rift in the family to develop unabated as the parent-child relationship slowly devolves. As their dynamic becomes less stable, the outside world gets closer and is met with a vengeful fury.
The acting is superb from everyone in the film. As outward disobedience is forbidden, many of the emotions and concerns of Iris and Rose are conveyed via facial expressions and body language in the presence of their father. The final scene required absolute commitment to the characters and it plays out perfectly.
‘We Are What We Are’ screened at the 2013 Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner