We continue our journey through a month of frightening, bloody and violent films. For more, check out our 31 Days of Horror homepage.
Synopsis: After the death of their patriarch, a Mexican family attempts to continue the way of life that he provided for them. Oh, did I mention that their “way of life” is that they’re cannibals?
The main issue at play in We Are What We Are is not how the family will survive, but who will provide their standard and accepted means of survival. When brothers Alfredo and Julian go looking for their first victim, they fail pretty spectacularly (pro tip: don’t just try to grab kids from a large pack of other kids). On their second try, they bring home a ripe piece of woman – unfortunately, she’s a prostitute and the rituals that dictate their actions don’t allow for “working women” to be consumed. So mom Patricia kills the hooker with a shovel, makes the kids wrap up her body, and promptly delivers the now-dead piece of meat that was the prostitute back to the street where the boys found her. Oh, and while she’s at it, she tells every other lady on the block not to mess with her family. That’s called blaming the victim, Patricia. A killer scene? Not only is it the first time we see the family kill, it also serves to illuminate all the big themes of the film in one tidy little tarp-wrapped package. Also, shovels are, by default, real bruisers.
We Are What We Are takes some time to grow into its gore, lulling viewers into a sense of tenuous ease, until cutting into the meat of its subject matter. Then that hooker dies, and all bets are off. The film is not especially gory or gross, but there are a number of big reveals that will stick with you (ahem, the hooker’s face, oh God, the hooker’s face). The film’s final sequence comes courtesy of an almost total breakdown of the family’s rituals and traditions, as an unexpected (live) victim gets a hole bit right into her cheek. Yow.
For a film that relies on both a character coming to terms with their sexuality and a whole pack of prostitutes, We Are What We Are is decidedly unsexy. I mean, unless you’re into seeing ladies of the night attempting to run for their lives from homicidal, cannibalistic maniacs in a confined space – well, then you might want to discuss that with someone a bit more experience treating that sort of thing.
What’s most scary about We Are What We Are isn’t the traditional horror film stuff – but it’s that, for a film about a fringe section of society, it feels terrifyingly possible. These people are cannibals – but they’re people, too. They could be living right next door to you, or selling you goods at the local farmer’s market, or trying to pick you up at the local gay bar or chewing on your elbow or…
We Are What We Are has been both damned and hailed for the same reason – it’s “arthouse horror,” a thinking man’s thriller, one that makes you identify with the supposed villains much more acutely than you do with their victims, even as you’re repulsed by said villains. Are they innocent? Certainly not. Are they terrifying? Definitely. But the family at the center of the film is strangely relatable – aren’t all families crazy in their own way? Don’t all have our own traditions and rituals to uphold? Don’t we all struggle to carve out our own place in the world? Yes, yes, and yes – we just don’t usually carve it into the bodies of others.