Somber family drama focuses on relationships over cannibalism
Jorge Michel Grau’s film We Are What We Are is a powerful family drama from Mexico about a family that just happens to eat people. But before you start expecting Troma-esque blood and guts-soaked fun, We Are What We Are is a family drama first, cannibal movie second. In fact, the movie has more in common with the classic HBO show Six Feet Under than any other cannibal movie currently released.
There’s Patricia (Carmen Beato), the mentally unstable mother of three children who must balance her grief at her husband’s death with her hatred of the fact that it was dalliances with prostitutes that may have lead to his painful end. Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro) is the oldest son — an immature, sexually confused teenager who doesn’t want the responsibilities associated with becoming leader of the pack. His younger brother Julian (Alan Chávez) is a violent-tempered upstart that frequently clashes with Alfredo for control of the family. Finally, there’s Sabina (Paulina Gaitan), the manipulative daughter who frequently pits family members against each other in the wake of her father’s death.
The family in Grau’s film has working-class roots. When they’re not hunting down homeless children or prostitutes, they repair watches and clocks based out of a booth at a nearby market. Cannibalism, while their driving focus in life, is not the extent of their problems. If you were to take out this subject matter, the film could probably still stand on its own — it just wouldn’t be nearly as exciting.
When the police discover half-eaten body parts during the father’s autopsy, an investigation is launched into the cannibals stalking the streets. The sloppy work done by the children in an effort to replace their absent father only leaves more clues for the cops to follow — clues that will eventually lead to a bloody stand-off between a pair of corrupt policemen and a family on the verge of tearing itself apart.
The film is beautifully shot by Santiago Sanchez. Lush composition mixes with a gritty portrayal of life in the Mexican projects to bring a weird visual style that is a mix between Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro.
Besides the family drama, We Are What We Are certainly doesn’t skimp on the horror. There are plenty of tense, bloody sequences of the cannibals at play and work. The children’s quest to provide for the family leads to some pretty gruesome scenes. One, in which the two brothers attempt a run and grab in a crowd of homeless children, is an almost perfect representation of lions attacking a heard of gazelle. There’s something strangely beautiful about this macabre composition.
We Are What We Are is somber to say the least. Unlike the aforementioned Six Feet Under, the movie does not have much of a sense of humor. The family’s cannibalism isn’t portrayed as campy nor does it pander to the Fangoria crowd. Instead, the family’s eating habits are used as a device to represent the incestuous and self-destructive nature of the relationships that entangle the family members.
We Are What We Are is a powerful film that will haunt audiences long after the movie has ended. Answers don’t come freely in the film — explanations are never given for why the family eats what it eats save for brief references to a ritual that needs to be completed. Relationships are hinted at and flirted with but the movie, wisely, chooses ambiguity over in-your-face offensiveness.
I wouldn’t classify We Are What We Are as a horror film. It’s a drama with horrific elements. It’s also a highly recommended movie and another reason why it’s worth going to Fantastic Fest.
Director: Jorge Michel Grau
Notable Cast: Francisco Barreiro, Alan Chavez, Paulina Gaitan, Carmen Beato, Jorge Zarate, and Esteban Soberanes
Writer: Jorge Michel Grau
Tags: Fantastic Fest, Guillermo Del Toro, Troma