Frank Parker (Bill Sage) is a simple man who aims to raise his children, Iris (Ambyr Childers), Rose (Julia Garner), and Rory (Jack Gore), in the traditions that have been in his family for centuries. He’s a God-fearing man, and all he expects of his kin is their unquestioning fidelity to his orders, which involve their dressing in decades-old clothes while occasionally fasting so as to properly appreciate the meal of rolls and human stew they’re to eventually consume. Unsurprisingly, the teenaged Iris and Rose have grown to find this lifestyle of unwaveringly austere bloodlust rather wanting.
We Are What We Are is a remake of the Mexican film of the same name, and though Jorge Michel Grau’s original was far from a masterpiece, it was energized by a dirty, sleazy sense of humor and outrage. Grau’s film was basically a shaggy-dog joke that followed in the tradition of the cannibalism film as blunt social critique. Why wouldn’t Mexicans be eating each other up? Haven’t they been doing that at the behest of Mexican and American authorities since who-knows-when anyway? To his credit, director Jim Mickle understands the cultural specificity of the original film and realizes that a scene-for-scene American remake would be meaningless, so he tailors the story’s basic components to concern the eroding income of a deliriously religious lower-rural American class.
Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici have one superb new idea that could’ve worked as a metaphor more poetic than anything in the original: A torrential storm is fast approaching this film’s woodsy community, causing the creeks to rise and flush out the bones of the Parkers’ victims, exposing the literal skeletons from their past in the process—a beautifully direct conceit that recalls the way that Robert Altman used a storm in The Gingerbread Man. But the new We Are What We Are is a stolid bore in every other way. Mickle plays the scenario deadly straight and unintentionally exposes all of its attendant absurdities, leaving the cast stranded, particularly Sage, who fondles fake bones while tediously emoting in a fashion that goes a long way to proving that if you’ve heard the deranged rantings of one backwoods religious zealot, you’ve heard them all.