We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are

  • We Are What We Are, by writer/director Jim Mickle, is not a horror film.
  • Something that is neither meritorious nor discreditable, but ought be recognized so as to properly set expectations.
  • At it’s core, this is a family drama that sprinkles in some allegory and plenty of gore.
  • And is mostly effective, in no small part courtesy of well developed central characters. Rose (Julia Garner) and Iris (Ambyr Childers) are multi-dimensional, and we emotionally connect with both of them.
  • Frank (Bill Sage) is less complex than his daughters, but the film doesn’t suffer for it. He is a zealot, an ideologue, and so he ought be unflinchingly certain his behavior is proper, no matter its immorality.
  • All three actors match the screenplay’s quality, especially Julia Garner whose every expression channels regret mixed with determination and hope. She stumbles ever so slightly in the picture’s climax, as she cries, but it is a minor misstep that doesn’t reduce the overall standout quality of her performance.
  • Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici make a few mistakes, most of them involving the youngest child, Rory (Jack Gore). Too often Rory’s only role is to sit passively when his family takes action, even though he’s supposedly fearful. As one example, when Rose throws his dinner on the floor, Rory doesn’t react. He simply sits in place, looking placid. Thanks to such scripted non-responses, the brother feels less like a character and more like a plot device, meant to heighten sympathy for Rose and Iris.
  • The problem: such artificial sympathizers are unnecessary. The two daughters are so well developed and the actors so effective that Rory becomes superfluous.
  • Mickle and Damici also under explain the Parker family’s long history. Are they inbreeding? If not, how do the patriarchs find mates to continue the family line? The question is doubly true of Frank, given that he’s the on-screen antagonist. How did he attract his wife, Emma (Kassie Wesley DePaiva), in the first place?
  • To some degree, thematic allegory mitigates this flaw. The Parkers effectively show us that monsters are not born; they are made. Still, explaining Emma and Frank’s relationship would have served We Are What We Are.
  • As would have developing Doc (Michael Parks, the film’s other standout actor) more three-dimensionally. Doc often propels the plot, but he isn’t as psychologically layered as Rose and Iris.
  • All the same, We Are What We Are has many more merits than flaws, one of them being that it impressively shows not tells; every reveal, every development is skillfully foreshadowed.
  • Moreover, the movie’s resolution is thematically and narratively perfect, so perfect that it might be the best ending of 2013.
  • Final Grade: B+

33 thoughts on “We Are What We Are

  1. Excellent review Josh! I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and thought it was an excellent piece of cinema, though it did indeed have its flaws. I am glad to see that you liked it! Ah, another believer in the conclusion!

    • I’m glad we agree. 🙂

      Especially on that ending. It is more than a little gory, but it is carefully built to and then executed very, very well. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I’ll watch it now, since you said the characters trumped the gory stuff, which I hate…also I didn’t because as you said it looked like a horror movie, hence was my expectation. The climatic ending you guys talked about certainly increase my appetite to watch it.

    • The ending is brilliant. It is also the goriest part of the film – so just beware.

      The posters and trailers make this out to be a horror movie, but it isn’t one really. This is about a family with some fleshed out daughters at its center. It’s very good.

  3. I don’t remember if you read what I wrote about this but I remember going on about the people on IMDB who bitched about the ending and how much I liked it. I am very happy to hear you liked it too. I thought it was perfect.

    • Yeah, if blood and gore bother you, this mightn’t be the flick for you. The characters made it worth it for me, but I can see how it could turn off other viewers.

      And thank you so much!

  4. I haven’t seen this remake, but managed to watch the Mexican original the other day. For me, it was two-thirds an eerie, atmospheric reality punch, but unfortunately the final third conformed to gore and stupidity. Good review James!

    Adam.

    • Hi, Adam. I’m sorry this reply is so late; somehow I missed that you’d commented.

      I haven’t seen the original, but I am curious about it. If I manage to get my hands on it, I’ll let you know my thoughts. 🙂

  5. I think it certainly has enough horror elements to fall into that category. The possibility of a neighbor being anything like this family is quite scary if you ask me haha. Anyways, cool review, and you delivered some great points. I do wonder how the hell Frank snatched his wife. The guy was unstable as ****….

  6. I have a feeling I will like this bad boy. The skillful foreshadowing and allegory both sound like interesting traits for this type of film to have. I am looking forward to see how it flows and unfolds. Heard many good things. Thanks for the great breakdown!

    • Thank you for the kind words!

      And this one is really strong. It isn’t particularly scary (it only has one jump scare, really), but it is creepy and effective.

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