Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Jack Gore, Kelly McGillis, Wyatt Russell, Michael Parks
Written by: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici
Directed by: Jim Mickle
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violence, bloody images, some sexuality, nudity and language
Running Time: 105
Date: 10/04/2013

We Are What We Are (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Meat the Family

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jim Mickle's We Are What We Are is a remake of a 2012 Mexican film, but that doesn't matter much. It also doesn't matter much if I tell you that it's a cannibal movie, because it's really a movie about family and obligation, and that's what makes it scary.

The Parker family lives in a small community, keeping much to themselves. They are normal folks most of the year, except for one weekend when they must complete a traditional ritual. Unfortunately, the matriarch dies just before this ritual is to be completed, leaving only the patriarch, Frank (Bill Sage), his two teen daughters -- Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) -- and their little brother, Rory (Jack Gore).

Several locals disappear as the Parkers prepare for their special dinner. The girls grow tired and upset about the entire ritual and begin to talk in whispers about ending it. A young sheriff's deputy (Wyatt Russell), who has a thing for the pretty Iris, starts snooping around, but finds trouble. Meanwhile, the local doctor (Michael Parks) finds enough clues to make him suspicious and goes to investigate.

Director Mickle and his co-screenwriter Nick Damici (who plays the sheriff) keep most of the movie's information from the viewer for a good long while, even if the clues are there to figure it out. However, they spend time concentrating on the ritual itself, and its long and bizarre history, as well as the ways that the family learns to follow it. It's a movie about how powerful ritual and tradition is, so much so that it can fly in the face of actual logic or even love.

Mickle, who made Stake Land, keeps the tone grayish and wet -- the movie takes place during a torrential downpour/flash flood situation -- and focuses on uncertainty and uneasiness. Sometimes the movie takes a traditional "horror movie" route, but it keeps its head above water because of the strength of the characters and the desperation of the situation.

Kelly McGillis, a star of 1980s hits like Top Gun and Witness, and also a veteran of Stake Land and Ti West's The Innkeepers, plays the voice of reason, a motherly character that steps in every once in a while to let us know that things aren't going as they should be.

In the end, We Are What We Are sticks with you not because of the cannibalism, but because of the characters and their conundrum. It's a movie that makes you ask about tradition, belief and human behavior, and the ways we have to justify right and wrong, even if it flies in the face of what's actually right and wrong. This may be a bad pun for a cannibal movie, but We Are What We Are offers food for thought.

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