Mexican horror Somos Lo Que Hay also known as We Are What We Are premiered at FrightFest 2010 to mass praise and applause from everyone it seemed, except me. Personally I found director Jorge Michel Grau’s modern day social comment cannibal movie at best morbid and mundane and at worst preachy and boring.
The news that the film would be remade by the brilliant Jim Mickle filled me with hope that the visionary behind the innovative vampire movie Stake Land would bring something fresh and interesting to the overly grim tale and my expectations where more than met on watching his reinterpretation of We Are What We Are.
Taking the same central story and setting it in the rural Catskills of America Mickle’s main change is to flip the sexes of the central characters with the film opening on the death of the Parker family matriarch, an event which plunges the strange and socially removed clan into chaos.
With their father sick it is left to eldest sister Iris (Ambyr Childers from The Master) to carry on the strange and sick family tradition that they believe will keep her and her sister Rose (Martha Marcy May Marlene’s Julia Garner) alive.
However as the girls try to come to terms with the gruesome task they must perform local physician local physician Doc Barrow (Kill Bill and Red State’s Michael Parks) makes some shocking discoveries about the Parker family and their ancient and evil rituals that threaten to end everything.
Filled with subtle and stunning performances from everyone especially Bill Sage as the Parker family patriarch one of the strongest strands in We Are What We Are is the development of the Parker sisters played excellently by Childers and Garner.
Whereas the cast and characters of the original seemed unsympathetic and almost deliberately unlikable Mickle makes sure here to give the girls an element of innocence and their internal and external conflict between the twisted traditions that they have followed all their lives and their own moral consciousness is the heart of the whole piece.
Tackling religion, worship and the damaging nature of fundamentalism We Are What We Are is just as dark and disturbing as the original and the entire film is infused with a sense of dread and depression emphasized by the grey blue color pallet and the never ending rain which rather than cleansing the town reveals one of its darkest secrets.
The most successful element of Mickle and Nick Damici’s script is that it fleshes out the base material enriching it no end. We discover much more about the cannibalistic culture the Parker’s worship not only during the course of the outside characters investigations but also through several flashbacks from the biblical diary the family own which details the origins of the misguided murders which go back to the settlers of the 1700’s and their desperate fight for survival.
Unlike other American remakes which often tend to over explain in We Are What We Are this back story enriches the main plotline offering up an explanation lacking in the overly ambiguous original giving the whole film a sense of a rich and horrifying past long before this fateful point we are witness to.
Quoted as hating American remakes of foreign movies it is clear that Mickle was determined to make We Are What We Are his own and that passion pushes through any preconceptions or reservations fans of the original may have producing one of the best horror remakes in recent years.