Fantastic Review: We Are What We Are

By  · Published on October 28th, 2010

An elder man stumbles through a shopping area, stares painfully into a window, stumbles some more, falls, and then dies alone on a sidewalk. While alive he wasn’t alone. He was the head of a family that included a wife and three children (two young men and one young daughter) who depended heavily on his being alive. He was the household’s primary breadwinner as a wristwatch repairman, their main voice of direction, and the collector of their next meal.

In most cases, being a family’s primary source of income coincides with being the one who provides the food, assuming the family doesn’t cultivate their own. This family does neither. They don’t pay for it, at least in terms of monetary expenses, nor do they grow their own – at least not in the sense that they don’t inbreed and wait nine months for a feast. Although, aside from blood relation the latter half of the previous sentence isn’t far from their situation. This is a family of cannibals and without the father’s experience at capturing prey and going undetected, their food supply is running dry and the sons become responsible for replenishing without getting caught.

Unlike a great number of the most recognizable cannibal pictures (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Silence of the Lambs, Wrong Turn), We Are What We Are isn’t noticeably a horror picture and I mean that as a positive distinguishing factor. Its pacing, tone and even the material resembles a family drama more than you’d think a picture about murderous people-eaters to be. The conflicts revolving around the shortage of food and the desperation to find their next victim serve to tell a more intimate story about the family’s loss and how they struggle individually with their relationships toward each other.

On the flip side, the fact that they are cannibals helps distinguish the material from being too much of a straight-forward drama. If you remove that element from the story it’s a less interesting story about a family with no money resorting to crime in order to pay the bills – essentially, nothing we really haven’t seen before (even if this is a better example of it). However, the inclusion of that horrific element of cannibalism allows the film to be looked at as a picture existing outside of both genre boxes with a very large piece of its anatomy (currently resisting a deeper reference to eating people) contained in each.

As far as quality is concerned We Are What We Are was one of the best pictures at this year’s festival. It’s slow-burn, but equally engaging with excellent ensemble work from the four leads and confidence behind the camera. There are quite a few long-shots that stand out and a decent number of long takes that showcase the prowess of a relatively young cast aside from the family’s Mother. It’s not an easy feat to tell a sympathetic plight of a family with no food when that food is human meat, but writer/director Jorge Michel Grau finds a way to make murderers/devourers into compelling protagonists by focusing on what we share with them more than what we don’t. The film’s climax is slightly antithetical to the relative quietness of the rest of the film, but that’s meant as a point of compliment as the film closes excitingly up through its haunting (and well scored) final shot.

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