We Are What We Are (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
The Parker family of five has a yearly tradition called Lambs Day: fasting for several days and then having to eat human flesh to mark its end. But chopped up people parts are not readily sold in supermarkets and so the patriarch, Frank (Bill Sage), must kidnap an unsuspecting person, usually a woman, and store her in the cellar. His wife, Emma (Kassie Wesley DePaiva), is in charge of the actually killing, cooking, and serving the soup. However, when Emma dies suddenly during a storm, the eldest of the three siblings (Ambyr Childers) takes on her deceased mother’s responsibilities.
Directed by Jim Mickle, “We Are What We Are” is rather uncommon in that it is a remake that improves upon the original, Jorge Michel Grau’s “Somos lo que hay,” but not by much. Though screenwriters Mickle and Nick Damici make the correct decision to use the same plot but tell a different version of the story, it is not extreme enough to invoke a primal gut reaction that should be immediately present in horror movies tackling the subject of cannibalism.
Part of its limitation involves the camera shying away from physicality. That is, in a picture like this, the camera must not be afraid to look at body parts—dead or alive—and remain unmoved as they receive whatever action necessary. Instead, it takes the approach of suggestion. When a limb is about to chopped or cut, the camera lens either rests on the person executing the action or we are introduced to the next scene with a significantly lower level of tension. To be fully engrossing, the violence must be shown—not all the time but enough to break out of mere suggestions.
I enjoyed that the screenplay bothers to explain a little bit about the history of Lambs Day, why it is important for the Parkers to continue to practice the bizarre ritual. The original Lambs Day dates back to 1782 and is broken into several sections. Perhaps it might have been more effective in terms of flow to have one major flashback. By breaking the history into segments, the technique diminishes the power of the rising action, particularly Doctor Barrow (Michael Parks) finding human bones near his place of residence. He suspects they might be coming from upstream.
The relationship between Iris and Rose (Julia Garner) ought to have been fleshed out more, if you will. While the actors do a very good job looking sullen and just about the tip of breaking point, their characters’ personalities are so steeped in mystery that I found them rather inaccessible. The sisters’ struggle to defy their father is the center that holds the picture together but we are not made to understand how their minds work or how they plan to break out of the twisted tradition and live freely.
“We Are What We Are” is reminiscent of Bill Paxton’s “Frailty” in style—which is beautiful—but there is no sense of real dread created from the doctor slowly figuring out the Parkers’ dark secret. The movie feels like it is on Valium which is a shame because given the right surge of energy, it might have turned out to be a different beast altogether.
Red State (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
A dead teen was found in the dumpster at the back of the town’s most popular gay bar. It was reported that he was wrapped in plastic from head to toe and authorities believed that it was some form of ritualistic murder. Despite these happenings, Travis (Michael Angarano), Jarod (Kyle Gallner), and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) accepted an online sex ad posted by an older lady (Melissa Leo) on Craigslist. As they headed to the trailer home’s bedroom, the trio lost consciousness. Their bodies were taken to a church by a group of religious zealots, led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), to be “punished” for their sins. “Red State,” written and directed by Kevin Smith, was brutal, intense, and sometimes devoid of reason. I think it was meant to incite frustration and anger with the religious extremists’ talk of hatred toward homosexuals, how that one group of people was responsible for the world going to hell. It wasn’t easy to watch, not because of the violence, but because for at least fifteen minutes, we were forced to sit in that church and listen to Abin Cooper summoning fire and brimstone, even implying that the tsunami that ravaged Thailand in 2004 was not only an act of God in order to set an example but it was actually deserved. I was in rage, in a red state, if you will, because in the back of my mind, I knew people like them existed somewhere. I admired the writer-director’s decision to allow the story’s exposition to take up almost half of the picture’s running time. It was necessary that we understood the evil within that church before we were introduced to Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), who was called to arrest the cult members for suspicion of illegally storing firearms, because we were asked to weigh between right and wrong. Sure, the adult cult members needed to be apprehended, preferably dead according to Keenan’s superiors, but there were also children and minors inside. Not all of them were innocent; they, the teens, knew that people were being taken and killed, but none of them had actually partaken in the physical act of taking and killing. However, it didn’t expunge the fact that they ignored their moral responsibility to report a crime. What didn’t work as strongly were the shootout scenes. They dragged for what seemed like an hour. I understood that governmental law and the word of God were literally at war but it eventually started to feel like an action film. Following Keenan as he searched for a kill shot was less exciting than what was happening inside the church. I preferred watching Goodman connecting with someone else, whether it be face-to-face or via cellphone. His pauses, stutters, and variation in voice implied great experience in law enforcement and I was so fascinated with what he was going to do next. His speech regarding a pair of bloodhounds toward the end was brilliantly executed and it summed up the crazy, somewhat otherworldly happenings up to that point. “Red State” defied the conventions of the horror genre. Instead of focusing on the gore to entertain, using violence as a tool, it made a statement about religion and politics: sometimes the two make no sense at all.