After screening at Cannes and Sundance, Jim Mickle’s latest film, We Are What We Are, finally gets a chance to terrify Toronto audiences. Based on the 2010 Mexican film of the same name, Mickle’s adaptation is an eerie look at the horrors that can come from misguided religious beliefs. The film centers around The Parkers, a seemingly compassionate family who run a trailer park on their vast acres of land. The Parkers, while normal on the surface, harbor a deep dark secret that is literally about to wash up to the surface.
When the family matriarch dies unexpectedly, the rest of the clan is left to try and pick up the pieces. With an important religious day, according to their family customs, on the horizon, Iris (Ambyr Childers) and younger sister Rose (Julia Garner) are left to keep the family together. This not only includes taking care of their devoutly religious father Frank (Bill Sage) and younger brother Rory (Jake Gore), but also handling the responsibilities of preparing the family feast. In most cases this would not be a big deal, however, The Parkers are not your typical family…they are cannibals. While Iris and Rose desire to live a normal life free from killing, Frank is determined to uphold family traditions at all cost.
Though some may view it as an easy target, tackling the topic of organized religion can be a very tricky thing. There is always that temptation to turn the characters into caricatures. It is especially dicey when you throw in the notion of cannibalism on top of that. Fortunately, Mickle’s film avoids the typical conventions and crafts a film that builds slowly, but keeps you on edge the entire time. Despite slowly lulling the audience into a comfortable rhythm for the majority of the film, Mickle unexpectedly turns up the terror in the final moments in a way that will surely divide many.
While the ending will be jarring for some, what sells it, and the entire film for that matter, is the great performances. Though Bill Sage has been delivering strong character actor work for years, he is blisteringly good as the religious zealot. Frank is menacing not because of his beliefs, but how quickly he can go from an unassuming man to a vicious monster. Sage’s performance in the film is only amplified by the stellar work that both Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner provide. Since so much of the film is told from their perspective, both actresses do a great job of keeping their characters relatable. What makes The Parkers such a chilling clan is the fact that you both fear and sympathize with them at the same time.
Unlike many of its peers, We Are What We Are is a film that embraces the old school horror aesthetics. Mickle finds intelligent ways to both layer the chills and keep the story moving at a steady pace. While his previous film Stakeland relied heavily on its action, Mickle really lets the performances take centre stage in this film. Regardless of how you may feel about the last twenty minutes, there is no denying that We Are What We Are delivers a truly chilling experience.