Since Gores Truly is femme-driven – we’re big advocates for chicks and horror and want to give our XX-chromosome readers a chance to contribute to the horror-fest we adore. The following article by Ash has been Murder-Her approved.
People are just a little bit weird. All of us have our own habits, traditions, and rituals that punctuate our lives, many of them instilled in us from early childhood in the loving cradles of our family home. Over the holidays, my entire extended family would all band together and record a video of the adults lip-syncing “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters at the children. I’m not really sure what purpose that served, but there you have it. Everyone’s got their own bizarre memories of Thanksgiving brawls or Christmas pickles, and they tend to be fairly benign, if somewhat off-color. But some traditions are more than just family weirdness—some are representative of an abusive and insular home, where authority is irrefutable and rebellion met with violence. What if you learned that your weirdness was not of the garden variety, but something more sinister, something symptomatic of zealotry and paranoia? What if you learned that the people you trusted to care for you, who taught you right from wrong, would ask you to commit unspeakable acts to preserve the sanctity of their rituals?
We Are What We Are (2013) examines that struggle, as well as culthood, familial dysfunction, and religious dogma. It centers around a family led by unstable patriarch Frank Parker, who ensures that his flock adheres to family religious tradition through mental and physical abuse. Entrapping his children and wife with fear towards outsiders and sudden bouts of violence, once a year he requires the eldest female of the family to perform the ritual slaughter of a human for them to feast upon. As the plot develops, we watch as the responsibility of this task moves to his older daughter and the family desperately tries to hide the reality of their lifestyle from the members of their community. Law enforcement turns their eyes towards the Parker family after the sudden death of Mama Parker, and things begin to fall apart as Frank succumbs to the same malady that struck her down. The film occasionally jumps to a past storyline that helps to explain the roots of the family’s brutal tradition, and while the scenes are not as well crafted as the primary narrative, it illuminates the way the original purpose of ritual becomes forgotten and skewed as time goes by.
This movie is more unsettling than precisely scary. It moves fairly slowly and does not rely too strongly on the use of suspense or sudden scares. and the fear here originates from our empathy with the children; after all, we are seeing the events that occur from the perspective of the killers. The gore is well used, not too excessive and always seems to serve a proper purpose. Though I like a good arterial spray as much as the next person, it was refreshing to see the blood and guts used sparingly in a movie about cannibals, and made it even more powerful when it did appear. Religious imagery and metaphor abound, and one of the most effective parts of the movie is its use of Biblical quotation to justify the horrific acts of the family. The costume and set design gets all the details right for a family living in pre-electricity conditions. The house is lit by candles most of the time, and feels authentically historical in the middle of modern, if rural, society. The girls’ clothing and hair is reminiscent of the repressive Fundamentalist Mormon communities of the Midwest, and a major turning point in the film occurs when one of the siblings decides to take control of their appearance.
Though its pacing does leave a little excitement to be desired, the movie definitely has its high moments. One of the grittiest scenes in the film occurs when the eldest daughter, Iris, begs her younger sister, Rose, to help her prepare the sacrifice for her death and dismemberment. Its effect on the two girls lead to the film’s climactic and action-heavy ending. The last scene is quite ambiguous and leaves the watcher questioning the family’s future; however, it seems clear that the children have not been able to fully leave their past behind. There is a sense that what unfolds before us is inevitable and that there is no escape from the pervasive effects of familial dysfunction and powerful figures on an indoctrinated mind.
One major lacking of We Are What We Are was the underwhelming performance of Bill Sage as the family’s father and leader, Frank Parker. While his gestures and physicality are wonderful to watch, he simply did not seem intimidating enough to motivate his entire family into an annual long pig chow down. Maybe it’s a personal thing though—the crazy father trope is probably my favorite in horror films, and my scariest movie of all time would have to be The Shining, so Sage had some big expectations to live up to. Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers give outstanding, nuanced depictions of his two daughters, each with their own burdens to bear in the family structure and their own acts of defiance against their father. I particularly enjoyed Garner as Rose, who radiates a fiery defiance against her father and his religion. Michael Parks (Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2, Django Unchained) has a delightful part as the county medical examiner who slowly puts together the family’s culpability as the killers of local women, and Wyatt Russell is more than just a beautiful face (although I’m glad he has that, too) as he unwittingly pursues Iris at his own risk.
Overall, this was a nicely done remake of the 2010 original and really transcends its peers in the cannibal sub-genre with its strong cast and emphasis on character development. It’s a bit on the slow side and is a little more cerebral than your typical man-eating tale. It may not be a good choice for a slasher fan looking for a high body count, but there’s plenty here for the horror aficionado to enjoy. Even better, it’s currently available on Netflix Instant Streaming for you to feast your eyes upon.