Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: September 27, 2013
Directed by: Jim Mickle
Genre: Horror / Thriller / Drama
Stars: 3 out of 5
For decades, dark and stormy nights have been the perfect setting for spine-chilling horror movies. Jim Mickle’s horror remake opens in the middle of a stormy setting, with torrential downpours turning an isolated New York town into a landscape of blurry and muted colors. However, “We Are What We Are” is not the cheesy, formulaic tale that this predictably rainy setting might suggest.
The movie draws its inspiration from the 2010 Mexican horror flick of the same title. Mickle’s remake shares the original film’s bleakness and its sense of minimalism yet also brings its own unique take to the gory subject matter. The result is a spare and haunting experience that will interest both horror and general cinema fans who are on the lookout for smart movies of any genre.
The Parker family dwells in the Catskill Mountains. The Parkers mostly keep to themselves, but this doesn’t seem to set off any warning bells for their neighbors. Although they may not be social butterflies, the family members seem functional enough. Though they’re eccentric, they’ve managed to stay on good terms with their community. However, everything changes after a rainstorm of epic proportions sweeps into the sleepy town. The storm is not just an act of nature; it also serves a symbolic purpose.
Emma (Kassie DePaiva), the matriarch of the family, suffers a terrible fate during the storm. She leaves behind her three children, Iris (Ambyr Childers), Rose (Julia Garner), and young son, Rory (Jack Gore). Without his faithful wife by his side, Frank (Bill Sage) becomes more domineering than ever. He rules his family with an unforgiving strictness, seeing to it that his children continue with the ancient rituals that keep their family so separate from the rest of the human race.
For all of his steeliness, Frank is not betting on his two teenage daughters undergoing a change of heart. Like most teenage girls, Iris and Rose are starting to question the aspects of family life that they took for granted as young children. This is a bad time for the two young women to question their familial traditions. With their mother out of the picture, the girls must take over the grisly rites that Emma formerly performed. Their change of heart could spell the end of the blood-soaked family legacy.
As the Parkers face these internal conflicts and struggles, the outside world is also starting to close in on their well-guarded secrets. The torrential rains have started to sweep aside the layers of earth that cover evidence of the Parkers’ unusual practices. In addition to being a tragic loss, Emma’s death may spell big trouble for her surviving family members. An autopsy alerts a local doctor (Michael Parks) to certain problems. For decades, the town has had to deal with a rash of disappearing persons. Now, however, the pieces of a puzzle are starting to fit together. The complete picture is far bloodier than anyone could have expected.
Amidst the gloom, Childers and Garner are the movie’s bright spots. As the Parker daughters, they bring enough sympathetic qualities and believability to very tough roles. They could easily fall back on stereotypes about ghoulish hillbillies. However, both actors manage to infuse their characters with a sense of tough devotion and vulnerable soul-searching that wins the audiences over. Iris and Rose Parker enter the esteemed tradition of monsters that manage to get the audience rooting for them, against all odds.
Under Mickle’s direction, the movie is grim, moody, and atmospheric. Fans of jump scares and sudden thrills may end up disappointed, since the pacing tends to be a little slower and more measured than most horror movies. Likewise, audience members who hope to see constant buckets of gore and guts will probably need to look elsewhere. In this way, “We Are What We Are” takes a gamble that does not quite pay off. The movie is a little too gory for non-horror audiences, and a little too slow and quiet for those accustomed to the shocking excesses of modern horror movies. In addition, the movie does not really pull any huge surprises or try out any fresh twists.
At the same time, these very qualities also make “We Are What We Are” a compelling and noteworthy horror movie. The film has the power to appeal to a versatile audience. With its somber tone and its emotional complexity, Mickle’s remake is an unsurprising but solid addition to the gothic tradition. The thoughtful and intelligent treatment of the gruesome, shocking subject matter transcends the usual expectations of horror movies.