We Are What We Are
Directed by Jorge Michel Grau
We Are What We Are, a gory and somber horror movie, reargrounds its genre and advances its characters to the fore. In general, a laudable approach: forming an affinity for the victims—or even, as here, the killers—is what makes the merely grisly truly frightening. Scary movies depend on sympathy. But as sci-fi slog Monsters demonstrated last year, this strategy comes at a risk--what if the characters aren't sympathetic? What if they're not as compelling as the sensational backdrop?
That's the problem with this Mexican import, which concerns a family that just lost its patriarch and sole provider—of human flesh! He put the food on the table for this pack of Mexicannibals: a critical, controlling and castrating mother and three adolescent children. The movie looks like a (South of) Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel, but its themes are less macabre: it's more like French family drama A Christmas Tale with interludes of feral violence. The drama, though, is lame: the ogreish mother provokes a lot of teenage brooding, as her kids awkwardly come-of-age under duress. (This may involve coping with closeted homosexuality, but maybe not.) The cannibalism gives texture to the generic depiction of strained family dynamics amid Latin-American destitution. The cannibalism is a gimmick.
Although, some political dimensions do emerge. Is the man-eating family a reactionary symbol of the poor, "feeding" off of society? Or does it serve a progressive parable about how systemic indigence threatens us all? Is its focus on "ritual" a critique of Catholicism? Is human flesh a metaphor for illicit drugs, the violence of cannibalism a stand-in for the carnage of cartel clashes? The (mostly corrupt) cops close-in on our cannibal clan, hurting their organization (with the help of a peoples united) but not dismantling it. The scariest part of We Are What We Are might be the ultimate powerlessness of law and citizenry to quell the chaos in the Mexican slums.
Opens February 18