Thursday, 31 October 2013

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 - Transplanted Gothic

The patriarch (Bill Sage) of a small American family unit becomes unravelled when his wife (Kassie DePaiva) dies. It now falls upon the eldest daughter (Julia Garner) to cook all the family meals, but she really has no stomach for the unconventional food and its strict ritualistic preparation. When the local doctor (Michael Parks) performs an autopsy on Mom, his findings suggest her death is consistent with that of those who also die from the steady consumption of human meat. It's only a matter of time before the family is discovered engaging in a centuries-old tradition rooted in abject generational poverty, superstition and Christian fundamentalism.

We Are What We Are (2013) ***
Dir. Jim Mickle
Starring: Bill Sage, Michael Parks, Julia Garner,
Ambyr Childers, Kassie DePaiva, Jack Gore, Kelly McGillis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I'm not prone to knee-jerk negative reactions towards movie remakes, but sometimes, the originals are so damn good that the mere notion of a redo is enough to induce apoplexy (of the "nervosa" kind). Jim Mickle's well directed 2013 American version of the identically-titled 2010 Jorge Michel Grau shocker from Mexico is just such a film.

Grau's picture was a knockout, a genuine revelation to me. Then again, so too was Mickle's astounding 2010 release Stake Land (not to mention his terrifying 2006 first feature Mulberry Street). Hearing Mickle would be handling the remake allayed my concerns somewhat. What Mickle has wrought here is a good picture and a fine take on its progenitor, but I have to admit that the transference of Grau's original tale, doesn't quite make the sojourn out of Mexico to the Gothic American White Trash territory as imagined by Mickle and longtime screenplay collaborator Nick Damici. Not that it doesn't try. It tries hard and often succeeds.

The best element of the picture is how Mickle slowly, painstakingly builds both suspense and grotesque horror. Mickle is a natural born filmmaker and there is seldom a frame or beat that's out of step. In fact there's something very peculiar at work here in just how rich his approach is since there's a genuine attempt to humanize its characters in a way where we often empathize with their situation even when they're engaging in utterly horrendous actions. This is in stark contrast to the original Mexican version where its characters are pretty reprehensible as human beings, and even so, I'd argue that Grau's film is infused with humanistic qualities also.

If you've not seen the Mexican version of this strange tale, you might actually be better off seeing Mickle's film first and then Grau's version. Mickle's version feels quite a bit different than Grau's, but I'm planning to give We Are What We Are 2013 a bit of a rest before I go back to it - just in case my appreciation of it has been too tempered by my love for Grau's picture. Mickle's film is intelligent, beautifully wrought and full of terrific performances. It might actually be a lot better than I'm giving it credit for, so by all means take a look at it in the manner prescribed above.

"We Are What We Are" was an official selection of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013.