9 April 2012

Guest Review - Ryan: We Are What We Are

When Clarky whipped out “We Are What We Are” at my last appearance at Horror Club, I was genuinely excited.  It was one of the few films that I had wanted to see – but missed – during 2010, and if you know how many films I see every year for our Those Movie Guys podcast, you’ll know this doesn’t happen very often.

I had always been intrigued by this Spanish language horror – it was pretty well received by critics and certainly had an interesting premise.  You probably know the basic story already – a family of cannibals living in the poorest parts of modern day Mexico lose their father  - not only is he the provider in the monetary sense, but also in the sense of the mysterious “ritual” they talk about. It’s then left to the remaining members to take the reins and find a victim for the family to feast on.

What follows is a very unsettling (in a good way) mix of kitchen sink drama meets slow-burning art house horror, interspersed with some exceptionally dark humour.  It’s also a genuinely interesting piece of low budget film-making.  I can honestly say I enjoyed the film on both levels.  It succeeds in meshing a realistic situation with a shocking premise, making you believe that the situation could happen.

After a striking opening sequence where the patriarch of the family dies on a busy street, the film admittedly takes a while to get going.  He’s from the lowest class, so the rest of the family carry on their daily business, unaware of his fate.  It doesn’t initially make the most gripping viewing, but absolutely highlights the family’s situation – someone being so poor, that it doesn’t register immediately when they keel over and die in the street.

The issue of cannibalism isn’t immediately revealed, but there’s a slow-building sense of unease between the family members from the off.  The mother seems unhinged, the brothers constantly get at each other, and the sister is an obvious manipulator from the start.  Tensions grow throughout the first section, especially as you know what they’re into but they don’t openly address it.  This to me works well (admittedly I’m probably more patient than your average film viewer) as when the true horrors of the “ritual” are revealed, it makes them even more chilling.

The whole film has a washed-out, sepia style to it, which works very well.  Not only does it look good, but it plays well to the grim, uneasy mood of the film – giving it an almost dream like quality – and you feel something isn’t quite right from the very beginning.  The air of sick desperation grows as the plot unfurls and all the family members take matters into their own hands, as they’re so set on carrying out their “ritual” in the wake of the father’s death.

The tension is ratcheted up, when the older brother finally grabs the bull by the horns and goes out hunting a victim.  It’s a strange sequence that only just works, where he plays a game of cat and mouse with a guy in gay club – but the whole time the viewer knows what’s coming. When the fish finally takes the bait, it moves the film into its final section.

It’s at this point – when the unease reaches its peak – that the gore is finally brought out.  When it does come it is pretty shocking.  The mother and the sister (who’ve really worn the trousers throughout the plot) strap up the victim and get the tools out.  It has the look of a Saw film, but because the set-up has been so meticulous and precise it doesn’t feel like a cheap move.  The sister, who’s spent the film typically arguing with her brothers, is now biting a chunk out a victim’s leg.  The crazy mother is wielding a knife like a well-trained butcher.  It acts as a total turn-around from what’s gone before.  All the tension-filled build-up pays off, as the family’s true colours are revealed in their grim glory.  But before the scene descends into a full blown feast for four, the plot takes another twist, moving away from the gore and setting up a closing act which is all about survival.  I will leave it for you to watch, but I will say that I thought the ending worked very well and it was far cleverer than I expected. Make sure you pay attention. It also stops what has been a very well put together film descending into a mess of blood and guts, leaving the worst of it to your own imagination (always a shrewd move in horror, if you can pull it off).

The film also manages to weave in some of the blackest humour going – the scene were the autopsy on the father is being carried out and the mortician uses a dismembered finger to flick the bird at two hapless cops investigating the case is a fine example.  It’s used sparingly, but it does work when it comes round.

Where this film may fall down for some viewers (not for me though, I may add) is the complete detachment you feel from the characters. This is something that Clarky rightfully pointed out in his review, and may not sit well with some people.  If you need a character to root for during a film, you’ll not find one here.  It’s nigh on impossible to feel sorry for the family given the depravity of their actions. I personally don’t feel that’s the point of the film, but I suspect some traditional horror fans may be disappointed.

This is not an easy watch but I found it rewarding at the finish. It’s all about the set-up, which demands patience and concentration from the viewer.  It’s an exceptionally slow-burner, but when it does get to the pay-off, the meticulous preparation makes the horror of the situation feel all the more realistic and chilling.  I really enjoyed it and found it stayed with me for a good time afterwards.

An interesting final note – the rights for an English remake have been picked up.  It’s to be directed by Jim Mickle, who’s writing the script along with Nick Damici. You may recognise those names as the men behind 2010’s most excellent vampire/survival flick “Stake Land”. I’ll be very interested to see what they do with it.


  1. Nick Damici and Jim Mickle worked on Mulberry Street as well, right? I really want to see this one but I don't have Netflix at the moment and can't find it. That's awesome about the American remake though! Can't wait for that. Great review.

  2. Yeah, they also worked on Stake Land. Will be interesting to see what they do with the remake as part of why it works is the setting, a bit like Old Boy.


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