When I first saw the trailer for this, I knew I had to see it. The premise was great; it looked atmospheric, and appeared to have the right mix of craziness and seriousness that can turn your standard horror movie in a bone chilling masterpiece. Does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out!
The film opens up with a quote, which I never think to be a good sign. Starting with a quote is kind of a cheap way to telling your audience that “THIS MOVIE IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT SOMETHING! WE’RE DEEP!!!” Oh well, let’s see what it says
So after some research, it turns out that Alice Parker was one of the Salem witches and was executed on September 22, 1692. The strange thing is, I can’t seem to find evidence that she actually said this. Not only that, but there’s no indication that she was ever a cannibal.
What’s that? OH! Her name is Alyce Parker! Alyce with a Y; got it. So who is she? Well, she’s one of the characters in this movie. She is the ancestor of the Parker family (who are our resident cannibals) that originally wrote the book they use to justify their… eclectic taste in meat. Am I the only one who finds it odd that you use a quote from one of your own characters to start the movie? The point of a quote at the start of the movie is to show a parallel between the movie and something that happened in the real world. When it’s one of your own characters, you lose that impact while STILL coming off pretentious and/or preachy.
Okay, let’s take a step back. It’s clear we’re not getting the Sawyer family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The movie wants to ground this in very realistic terms in order to get a more visceral impact when they start hacking up bodies for food. So let’s move on and actually getting this thing started. The movie begins with some establishing shots of where they live which looks like Boggy Creek if it was shot in HD. We can see that a storm is a brewing, and we find out that today is Friday.
One thing that really works in this movie is how unspecific it is about when it takes place. As far as I can tell, there’s no indication of what year it takes place in, and the location (which I also think is unspecified) gives off the impression that it could still take place this year even though very few have cell phones and no one uses the internet because they live in such a rural area. A lot of horror movies can become dated way too quickly, but this movie easily avoids those traps, which means that it will hold up a lot better than most. We see the matriarch of the Parker family drive to the local butcher shop and she appears to be distressed and is having trouble focusing. As she’s leaving she notices a missing persons poster on a bulletin board outside the store, and just so that the irony will be the most poetic, it is at this point that she starts spewing blood from her mouth before collapsing in a puddle and drowning to death.
While this is happening, we get introduced to the Parker’s three kids. Iris is the oldest, Rose is the middle, and Rory is the precocious little whipper-snapper. It seems that the family is fasting in preparation for their yearly feast and the girls begin to wonder why mommy dearest went to the store in this downpour. They’re also worried about her because she’s been getting headaches recently but because dad’s a fucking psycho (sorry, person with differing beliefs) he wouldn’t let her see a doctor. Anyway, the police come by to inform the family of what has happened, and the girls have to identify the body. They go to the local physician’s place (Doc Barrow) which apparently has a morgue attached to it, and Iris confirms that it’s her mother. The Doctor’s autopsy also shows signs that she had Parkinson’s, which would explain why she collapsed (I think).
It’s here that the movie starts to run into some problems. First of all, this movie drags like a dog’s ass on your nice carpet. The movie spends most of its time slowly playing out scenes that we know are coming from a mile away and tries to create suspense by having characters in the movie take forever to figure out simple things. I know this movie is a mood piece whose real horror is that we are slowly peeling off the false layers these characters have built up their entire lives, but the process is so drawn out, and they frankly cut corners here and there that ultimately undercuts the moments where these characters show their true selves.
What happens in the next half hour of this movie is that the father (Frank) decides to go through with the ceremony and finds someone to sacrifice. Iris being the oldest is now the one in charge of finishing off the new victim as well as cutting up the pieces. The Doctor (whose daughter has been missing for years) finds a bone in the river after the storm and suspects that it’s human remains. Since Frank has kidnapped someone, the Sherriff and deputy are on the hunt looking for this missing person. Already we can see where this movie is headed. Doc Barrow is suspicious of where the bone came from, and the police are looking for answers. The oldest daughter now has to actually confront what she’s been protected from all these years, and has to face the person who they plan on eating. There are some genuinely good scenes in this section of the movie, like when the two sisters talk about what they have to do, but overall it takes too long to get to where we know this movie is going next. We don’t learn all that much about anyone in this time either. Frank is an overbearing father who speaks softly but commands great authority over his family. We got that the first time we saw him with the other Parkers, yet the movie feels the need to keep hammering that point home when we already get it. There’s a scene where he’s talking to a neighbor, but all this establishes is that they have a neighbor. We see that the family keeps jewelry and such that they got from their victims, but this is only established to be a payoff for a later scene. Each member of this family is quiet with a thousand yard stare, which lets us know they aren’t all that stable but it never amounts to interesting scenes in the movie. These scenes just lack any sort of style besides drab and mournful.
The movie has its first scare when Rory wanders into the basement where he finds a locked door and the kidnapped woman reaches her hand from under it, but this scene doesn’t amount to much. In fact, the youngest kid has almost nothing to do in this movie. After that we go to the mother’s funeral which is drab and mournful, and the father reiterates that Iris needs to be the one to take care of the victim. The father gives her the book I was talking about earlier which details the events that happened long ago (pioneer times) that led to the Parkers being cannibals. These are represented in flashbacks which work a little bit better because there’s a layer of desperation to those characters that’s missing from the current day Parkers. In fact, it’s kind of hard to buy why the fuck they still eat people when none of them seem to enjoy it. The father says that it wards off diseases or stops them from being poisoned by sin or some bullshit, but shouldn’t someone at some point in the last few generations of this family said “I know that we eat people to cure our illnesses, but maybe we should try this whole medicine thing at least once.” I guess you could say that it’s a testament to the writing of these characters that they are so far gone they can’t even conceive of not doing what they do despite it making (at least the girls) miserable, but it just ends up being frustrating that no one seems to ever put up any fuss over it.
Anyway, it turns out the Deputy was a classmate of Iris’s (she wasn’t home schooled!?) and is helping the Doctor with the bones as well as trying to get in her pants.
The investigations being conducted by the police as well as the Doctor are slowly moving ahead with the cops finding more bones, and the doctor finding out that a lot of people have gone missing in the surrounding areas. The youngest one starts getting a cold which is all Daddy needs to once again confirm his belief in eating people. He’s getting sick too, but that’s something that will be explained later. This means that it’s time for Iris (with Rose’s help) to kill the women their father kidnapped, chop up her body, and serve it to the family. This scene works moderately well, though as you can imagine, I have plenty of nitpicks about it. The woman is a room by herself in the basement but basically has a chain leash around her. The girls have to slowly drag her to the center of the room, and hook up the leash so that she can’t escape. Iris tearfully explains how sorry she is but reassures the woman that she’ll be in a better place. All of this works in the scene. It’s not so much scary as it is sad, but it definitely hits home what these kids are going through. This scene turns south though when the woman lunges after Rose and starts attacking her, FORCING Iris to knock her on the back of the head with a socket wrench. It changes the dynamic somewhat so that, while killing the woman is still wrong, the audience has just been given a reason to feel slightly sympathetic to the cannibals. It would have been more effective if they stabbed her while the woman was pleading for her life, but they had to throw in a Stand Your Ground moment.
After that, Rory stumbles into the basement, but Rose grabs him and takes him upstairs before he sees anything, leaving Iris finish the job by smacking her in the head again. This is another nitpick, but the blood effect used here is just AWFUL. I’ve done blood effects this badly before and trust me; a professional movie’s special effects should NEVER be compared to anything I’ve done.
I understand that this is a low budget film, but the fact that you ADDED an unneeded blood spurt instead of just cutting before the “impact” means that I’m completely fair in judging the crappiness of your effects. It just looks awful and is only on there for less than a second. Completely unnecessary, yet it’s something I noticed right away. After that, Rose comes back and they proceed to clean the body, bleed her out, and mark the places to cut. This is a pretty effective scene as well, yet they cop out at the end of it and just fade to them stirring a pot of stew. Again, the movie feels like its cutting corners and in doing so take away most of the horror that the following scene would have. They eat the stew, but so what? It doesn’t look any different from any other stew, and the fact that we don’t see any part of the preparation process just ends up undercutting my belief that they are actually eating human meat. I KNOW they’re eating random women stew, but it just doesn’t convey well. So there it was. An hour into the movie and we see the cannibals eat an awkwardly silent dinner. How terrifying.
The only thing that really matters in this scene is that Rose refuses to eat it, which does a lot to flesh out her character, and this aspect is one of the things that the movie gets (mostly) right. She’s seen the horrible means by which this ritual is even possible. Rose’s slow boil for the rest of the movie is great to watch as she’s unraveling at the seams.
After that, we see that the cops and the doctor are once again getting closer to figuring out what is going on. The deputy starts checking a stream which is close the the Parker home and Iris finds him there. The deputy goes with her to the house to get fresh socks when he starts telling her that he’s looking for human bones. Of course.
This leads to Iris taking dumbass here for a walk in the woods where she will presumably kill him. Instead though, she breaks down in front of him saying that she’s dirty on the inside, and then they start having sex. I appreciate the movie for showing us that she doesn’t really have the nerve to be a killer, but jumping from that to sex is an odd transition… unless you’ve watched any other god damn horror movie ever made which means you know exactly what’s about to happen next.
Wasn’t this movie trying to be realistic and explore the emotional toll that being a cannibal would have? When the fuck did Frank here turn into Jason Voorhees who can kill anyone with one swipe from a garden tool? While this was going on, the Doctor finally makes the connection between the Parker’s and the bones, and then figures out that the wife didn’t have Parkinson’s, but instead had Kuru Disease which is a degenerative neurological disease that can be caused by eating human brain tissue. The doc sends the deputy a text saying he suspects the Parkers, but since Frank now has his phone, he’s aware that the authorities are closing in on him. Rose tries to comfort Iris by telling her they’re going to run away from Frank and start a new life in the city. Frank however has other plans which include poisoning the rest of the stew with Arsenic. He calls them down for dinner, but Rose finds the arsenic bottle. Despite that she sits down at the table, doesn’t say a word, and only does something when Rory is about to eat the stew. I get that despite her plans to escape and the fact that she knows everyone’s life is in danger that she’s been brainwashed for so long by her father that she has trouble defying him. I get that, but it’s also kind of frustrating and frankly feels like a cheap way to extend this scene and fill it with tension that it really didn’t need.
After slapping the food out of Rory’s hands, the doctor comes in and the kids leave him with their father. Before Iris leaves, the Doc notices that her hairpin is the one that he gave her daughter, confirming his suspicions about the Parkers. See? I told you that jewelry bit from earlier would come back. The scene that follows is actually really great where Doc tries to get Frank to admit that he ate his daughter at gunpoint, and Frank deftly avoiding saying it flat out. The Doctor also tells Frank that his wife died of Kuru Disease, and that Frank also probably had which would explain why he was getting sick recently. The scene is very well acted and is pretty intense, but it seems odd that the Doc didn’t mind Frank digging in the draw behind him. The Doc probably felt very silly about letting him do that considering there was a gun in there.
Frank pulls the gun and shoots it at the Doc. Iris runs in out of nowhere (her spidey sense must have tingled) and in a somewhat confusing scene, jumps in front of Doc but Doc still gets shot only in the shoulder instead of somewhere vital. Maybe Frank pulled his gun up at the last second? I don’t know, but the blood effects here are just as bad.
Anyway, Doc fires back, hits Frank in the arm and then Frank hits his head on the counter which knocks him out. After the gunshots, Rose bolts out the door with Rory, presumably heading for the car. Doc has a chance to double tap which he doesn’t take, so you know what’s going to happen in about 45 seconds. He goes to Iris and tries to comfort here when Frank comes back (surprise!) and smacks him in the head with a frying pan. Iris appears to be hurt or nauseous which I’m not sure why, but Frank leaves her there and chases after Rose and Rory. For some reason, they didn’t go directly to the car because we cut to them running to the car from the back of the house, (car is in the front) and then Frank comes storming out the front door. I’m guessing they had to get the keys for the truck, but it would have been nice to see that be the reason. Anyway, the get in the truck, but don’t lock the door so Frank just opens it and Rose and Rory run to the neighbor’s house. The neighbor gets taken care of pretty quickly by Frank and eventually convinces the two of them to go back and finish dinner.
EXCEPT NOT! When Frank gets close to try and comfort Rose she starts taking a bite out of his neck! Iris, without missing a beat, stabs his hand to the table with a fork and the both of them start going to town on this fucker!
The effects are good here, and the moment feels earned. Roses mental state has been in flux ever since killing that woman, and I’m pretty sure Iris didn’t forget about how her dad killed the person she was fucking while they were in mid coitus. Rory, once again contributing nothing to the story, hides under the table. He’s not crying or anything, he’s just chilling out waiting for this to end. It eventually does when Frank dies, though I’m not sure how taking a few chunks of skin (painful as that would be) is enough to kill someone in a few minutes. The Doc, who isn’t dead wakes and sees the girls covered in blood and chewing with their mouth open. Doing what any sane person would do, he tries to ignore it and make himself not too noticeable.
The movie ends with the girls (freshly cleaned up) driving away with Rory to start a new life. For some reason, Rose has the book which I assumed meant that she was making sure it didn’t fall into anyone else’s hands and was going to destroy it when she could. Some however have said that it indicates that they will continue on the tradition, which considering a sequel has been green lit might indicate that to be true.
I’m going to pretend that’s not the case though, because otherwise this movie would drop even more points and it’s already just barely staying off my shit list.
So that was We Are What We Are. I get the feeling that maybe the problems I have with it are my own and that it’s just not a movie for me. Maybe I expected too much from this and was disappointed that it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. The movie has so many good things going for it. The actors are very good at portraying someone carrying an insanely dark burden, the cinematography conveys the mood of this very well, and the script for the most part isn’t all that bad. Sure it dabbles in cliché which is disappointing, but there are much worse examples of movies doing that. Despite all that though, I was just bored throughout most of this. It’s too quiet and slow to get me to feel anything for these characters, and I just have trouble accepting that these characters NEVER had a problem with this before now. I know that a lot of stuff happened in the movie to push them over the edge (dead mom, killing a woman, dead “boyfriend”) but they ultimately are hard to care about because their situation is so foreign to me. Maybe if we got the full picture of their lives (flashbacks to when the kids first started eating human) then maybe I can understand. By the time the movie starts, it seems that they’ve already given up on fighting or have accepted all the stuff that I as an audience member have just been introduced to. The supporting cast (excluding the Deputy) is really good across the board, especially the Doctor, but it takes way too long for them to figure out what’s going on to the point that it’s just frustrating. All that being said, the last twenty or so minutes of this movie are EXCELLENT. Everything that’s been bubbling under the surface explodes into a maelstrom of shit hitting the fan until someone gets eaten, and it’s awesome.
There’s a prequel planned as well as the sequel, so maybe that will help me understand this situation, but frankly I’m not looking forward to it. I give this a very hesitant recommendation. It’s not my cup of tea, but I can’t deny that’s it a well-made film for what it’s trying to do.