Today: April 19, 2024

We Are What We Are

Drama and mayhem in this
Mexican thriller that looks at a family of cannibals
.

Forget
your Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
what if a family of cannibals suddenly found themselves without a leader? This
is the premise of We Are What We Are and it raises a fascinating insight into
the family dynamics of an impoverished group.

The
film opens with the father staggering through a busy shopping centre,
collapsing and dying in a pool of his own bloody vomit he is whisked away, by
overly efficient cleaners, and the mess cleaned up. The message is clear, the
poor are easily disposed of in Mexico. The problem is that he has left his
family behind and they are not used to fending for themselves. On the one hand
how are they to make any money when they are kicked off their market stall, on
the other they must continue their ritualistic killings and feeding off their
victims. It falls to eldest son Alfredo (Barreiro)
to take charge, but is he really up to the task?

While
there are plenty of themes and ideas touched on in We Are What We Are the most
interesting is the relationships within the family and how they cope with the
loss of their leader. The bumbling police are only interested in capturing this
murderous family for fame and fortune so they take a back seat for much of the
proceedings. This allows us to focus on the more interesting aspect of the
three siblings and their erratic mother.

There
is no pretence here, the family are fully aware they are criminals, as the
mother points out “We’re monsters”. But
in a dog eat dog world, or should that be human eat human, this is the only way
they know how to survive
. The reasoning behind their life-style choices and
ritualistic sacrifices is never explained, which may frustrate some audience
members, but it is not about their history but their future that truly hooks
you in.

While
the reserved Alfredo, played with aching vulnerability by Barrerio, looks to
take control he must also stem the aggression of his younger brother Julian.
Julian sees himself as the alpha male of the family and is played by Alan
Chavez with an inherent anger behind the eyes. As the two boys fight and jostle
for position it is younger sister Sabina who proves to be the quiet driving
force within the family. It is her use
of submissive sexuality and quiet demeanour, played brilliantly by Sin Nombre’s
(2009) Paulina Gaitan, which slowly manipulates the brothers to act as she
wants
. Indeed such is the gravity of Gaitan’s performance that the film
feels considerably less interesting when she is not on screen.

For
a first time feature writer director Jorge
Michel Grau
brings a definite aesthetic and sensibility to the film. Always
gritty and with moments of gothic darkness, lit only by simple candle-light, he
finds ways of drawing us into this world and making us care for the family. Much has been made of the violence on offer
but the reality is it is never glorified or seen in any great detail, indeed
most of it is often shrouded in darkness with only the sound effects allowing
the mind to muster horrifying images
. Instead, like the brutality in the
film itself, the violence serves a purpose. It is never meant to be gratuitous
or shocking but the reality in which these people have chosen to live their
lives.

Wonderfully poignant and,
surprisingly, warm for a film of its nature, We Are What We Are needs no
excuses for its tight performances and keen execution
. It may be too languid and
thought provoking for those expecting an out right horror film but it will
certainly cause a reaction.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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