We Are What We Are (2013)

 

Jim Mickels' Stake Land, was a kick in the crotch to a vampire genre that had become pussy whipped by Twilight, The Vampire Diaries and any number of other tween franchises seeking to turn the vampire into Ashton Fucking Kutcher. His post apocalyptic vision of a de-gentrified society over run by ravenous blood suckers and the few that sought to resist them is one of the most powerful horror films (or films of any genre) of the last decade (read the review here). So how would Mickel tackle another popular horror trope? One that has yet to be corrupted by Hollywood's desire to make everything palatable to 14 year old girls. Answer: With a remake of the Mexican film (Somos Le Que Hay). Now before you start losing your shit...may I remind you of the fact that there are plenty of foreign films that get remade for American audiences that turn out just as good, if not better than their foreign counter parts. We are What We Are is certainly one of those films.

The Parkers are a reclusive family living on the outskirts of their community some where in Delaware County in upstate New York. I make a note of the location, because no one in recent memory has shot the Catskills so well as Mickel has. Between this film and Stake Land, despite both films contents, he has created the best tourism commercial for the region anyone can hope for. But back to the Parkers, their place as respected, though fringe members of the community established, the town finds itself in the midst of the worst rain storm and by proxy of that rain, floods, in recent memory. When family matriarch, Emma Parker succumbs to what everyone thinks is a stroke, resulting in her drowning, it's up to her tight knit family to pick up the pieces.


Most of the responsibility falls on oldest daughter Iris (Ambyr Childers), who despite her best intentions, struggles to find balance between her fathers strict ways and her desires as a teenager. As the flood waters continue to rage, the town doctor (Michael Parks) examines Iris' mother and discovers some inconsistencies in Mrs. Parkers physical condition when she died. Couple that with his dogs discovery of, what he believes is a human bone unearthed by his dog, the fact that his daughter disappeared years ago and the rash of other unexplained disappearances over the last few years, and you can consider his dander officially up.

Doc Barrows investigation progresses, despite not really getting any help for the local police chief (longtime Mickel collaborator and co-writer Nick Damici). Meanwhile, family patriarch and de-facto religious leader Frank (Bill Sage) starts to lose more and more of a grip on what he's tried so long to control. As the film builds towards the inevitable Doc Barrow/Frank Parker showdown it becomes yet another tremendous feather in Jim Mickels' cap.

Simply put, We Are What We Are is certainly one of the best films of 2013 and probably one of the best films since the turn of the decade. I don't know if it will wind up being held in such high regard as Stake Land as held simply because Mickel borrows a page from Ti West's playbook here and takes thing slow. At some points very slow. He teases but never fully delivers on the promises until the last 20 minutes of the film. But what a last 20 minutes they are. When the film finally starts hitting on all cylinders, there are not many better films out there.

Mickels gets expectedly wonderful performances out of Parks, Sage and Damici (although the later is unfortunately short on screen time). But the real surprise in the film is how tremendous the performances of all the younger actors are. Much like Mickel got a great performance from Connor Paolo in Stake Land, he does so again from his younger leads here. Most impressive is Julia Garner as middle child Rose. She is the driving force behind the elevation of the last act of film. Acting against such heavy weights as Parks and Sage, she steals the show - and has the most awesome blonde Jew-fro I've ever seen while doing it. It's one of the best performances I've ever seen from an actor her age.

We Are What We Are is another great film from Jim Mickel. It can sit proudly next to both (the underrated) Mulbury Street and Stake Land. It is deftly directed, extremely well written, and once of the best acted films I've seen in a long time. It's currently streaming on Netflix (which is how I saw it, because I wasn't cool enough to get screeners). If you are a fan of well developed, well acted, well written films, you need to check it out!

****1/2 out of ***** stars.

that's it for me. Thanks for reading and enjoy every sandwich.

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