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We Are What We Are (Jorge Michel Grau, 2010)


Familial melodrama and torture porn collide in Jorge Michel Grau’s unsettling debut feature We Are What We Are. Charting the emotional fallout that occurs after a family of five with cannibalistic tendencies loses its patriarch, this grungy little film attempts to juggle two genres that would at first brush seem fundamentally incompatible. If the resulting work ultimately fails to completely marry its disparate goals, it’s to Grau’s credit that he manages to make this slow-burning horror drama work as well as he does.


We Are What We Are begins effectively, with the first twenty minutes or so withholding the family’s true nature from us. Slowly their actions and vague talk about “the ritual” build into a horrific picture of their habits, but by that time Grau hopes to have indoctrinated us into their clan. As such, we come to know these reprehensible characters as fully developed people before we come to think of them as the “monsters” that they eventually call themselves. Although we see the father of the house die horribly during the opening scene, we never see him spend time with his family, charging the resulting squabbles about how the family will proceed (and how they will feed) in his absence with extra urgency.


Most of the drama here centers on which member of the family will become its new leader. Two teenage brothers, one dangerously aggressive and the other perhaps too reserved to be the killer that the family needs, vie against their unstable mother for the position. Throughout the film, we see scenes showing the clan’s attempts to procure new food sources set against the haphazard investigation by an ambitious police detective. These scenes unfold in the slums of Mexico City, giving the proceedings a memorably grungy environment. The groups of clubgoers, prostitutes, johns, and orphans that the family targets as victims never emerge as characters in their own right, but they collectively paint a picture of an urban hell.


While We Are What We Are offers flashes of extreme gore, the overall impression it leaves is one of calculated restraint, with much of the violence framed off screen or implied through sound effects. Still, the movie seems more likely to satisfy horror fans than connoisseurs of art cinema. Despite the film’s awareness of the dire socioeconomic situation of its cannibals, it does little to turn their behavior into political commentary. What little subtext there is either makes obvious points about familial obligation or offensively attempts to align homosexuality with both impotent passivity and predatory actions. Still, We Are What We Are registers as a promising debut feature, similar in tone, if not charm, to Tomas Alfredson’s cult hit Let the Right One In.



Jeremy Heilman