Sundance '13 Review: WE ARE WHAT WE ARE
Director: Jim Mickle
Screenwriters: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle
Cast: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Michael Parks, Wyatt Russell, Kelly McGillis
Synopsis: A seemingly wholesome and benevolent family, the Parkers have always kept to themselves, and for good reason. Behind closed doors, patriarch Frank rules the roost with a rigorous fervor, determined to keep his ancestral customs intact at any cost. As a torrential rainstorm moves into the area, tragedy strikes and his daughters Iris and Rose are forced to assume responsibilities that extend beyond those of a typical family. The most important task the girls face is putting meat on the table— but not the kind that can be found at the local supermarket. As the unrelenting downpour continues to flood their small town, local authorities begin to uncover clues that bring them closer to the secret that the Parkers have held closely for so many years.
Story and Direction
We Are What We Are is a beautifully shot thriller that opens and closes with a bang. Jim Mickle is able to capture a haunting atmosphere that completely immerses the audience in the unravelling mystery of the Parker family. There are plenty of flashback sequences peppered through the film that introduce us to the Parker's ancestors, whose migration to the Americas shaped the ways and traditions that Sage's character is willing to go to great lengths to preserve. While these could easily have been distracting to the flow and look of the film, they blend surprisingly well, and could even make for an interesting prequel.
The experience of this film is built around a mystery, but I'm sure the synopsis, future trailers, and the poster above will likely (and unfortunately) reveal too much of the story. But even when the film shows its hand sooner than you'd like, the ending will undoubtedly still give you a shock and surprise that'll have you and your friends reeling long after the credits have rolled.
In order to be invested in the fate of the Parker family, you really have to buy into them as a real family. The authenticity the cast is able to bring to the twisted family relationships is truly what makes the film work.
As family Patriarch Frank Parker, the usually clean-cut American Psycho star Bill Sage is so grizzly and menacing that his mere presence on screen makes you nervous in your seat. He spends most of his screen time being very subtle and stoic, but his performance has a lot of great little details so that when he does go off the rails it's all the more frightening.
Ambyr Childers carries a lot of the film as the eldest daughter who bares most of the family responsibilities following her mother's passing. Julia Garner as Rose acts kind of like the voice of the audience. You feel a lot of sympathy for her, so when she's in danger or contemplating something, you really feel the emotional weight of the character. She has great chemistry with Sage - they actually also played father and daughter in last year's Electrick Children - and the two share some of the most important scenes together.
We Are What We Are is actually a remake of the 2010 Mexican film of the same name. Damici and Mickle used the original as a jumping off point for their script, but it tells a much different story with different family dynamics. The female leads and backwoods setting can feel very similar in tone to Winter's Bone.
Chances You'll See It in Theaters
I really hope this gets at least a limited release. Director of photography Ryan Samul truly did a great job with the look of the film, and it's one that would benefit from a viewing on the big screen. It's a very suspenseful horror mystery that may not be for everyone, but hopefully it'll get some good word-of-mouth to help give it a proper release.