Reviewed by Paula Farmer
Director/Writer: Jorge Michel Grau
Starring: Adrian Aguirre, Miriam Balderas
Run Time: 90 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Spanish, with English subtitles
The Family that Kills and Eats Together
In his feature debut, director Jorge Michel Grau puts a new spin on the horror genre … and some may say that’s a bit of an understatement. We Are What We Are is many things, not least of which is gutsy and creative, especially considering the central characters are a family of cannibals in urban Mexico. That said, the film is also-and how could it be otherwise – odd, disturbing, gruesome and at times truly hard to watch.
When an unidentified man drops dead in broad daylight outside a Mexico City shopping mall, he leaves onlookers in shock and his already struggling family destitute. His autopsy leads to disturbing signs of cannibalism, while the aftermath of his death leads his devastated family confronted with certain challenges – how to survive financially, who will be the new head of the household, and should they maintain the “family tradition” of diet by freshly killed human flesh. While, of course, I will not give much away pertaining to the unfolding suspense, I will say the answer to the latter question is yes, they do decide to carry on with family traditions. The core of the story is the tension leading up to the decision and the execution of the first ceremonial kill, post papa’s death. Simultaneously, competing detectives work furiously to be first at putting the pieces together that will lead to the identification of the cannibal and its relation to the recent death of a prostitute and the abduction and attempted murder of young gay club hopper. The young man was picked up by the elder “cannibal” son, who himself reveals certain repressed sexual appetites. Barely escaping the family’s torturous ways, the young man leads the police to the bloodthirsty family and their chamber of horrors.
We Are What We Are is oozing with black humor, violence and gore, but it displays it in an unusual and unexpected manner. Although all the performances are appropriate and convincing, what stands out most are the unique themes and their execution. These elements are woven in a dark, disturbing aesthetic of reality, unlike most recent slasher films that have a campy or surreal quality. Whether this film has mass horror film appeal or not, there’s no denying that in Grau we have a unique and welcomed talent.
We Are What We Are garnered international attention and critical acclaim when discovered at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight program, before playing at the New York Film Festival in 2010. It receives its U.S. theatrical premiere this month at the IFC Center in New York. It will simultaneously be available nationwide on IFC’s on demand TV platform. Watch it at your peril.