Oct 19 2013 – When 70’s music icon Karen Carpenter sung about Rainy Days and Mondays always getting her down, her angst paled in comparison to the cloistered existence experienced by the Parker family. Although “We Are What We Are” opens on a Friday morning, this sentiment definitely applies here too. Unlike the New York Times Best Selling novel, this rain soaked little gem is literally One Hundred Shades of Grey as an ominous and not so simple family struggles through their inner storms to keep their ancestral customs intact in the 2013 Toronto After Dark Film Festival’s Gala Opening of “We Are What We Are”.
With a tender heart and a tortured mind, we only see a brief glimpse of Mrs. Parker (Kassie Wesley DePaiva), in a fugue state as she makes her way into the small town general store set in the Catskill to pick up supplies ahead of a torrential rain. The dampness gets in my head, she said to the shop keeper as her inner turmoil is etched so convincingly for all to see just before her sudden and tragic death. Further skewing the family foundation is their religious ritual of cannibalism performed by the mother of the house that has been in the family for centuries. The family dynamic quickly re-sets with eldest daughter Iris (Ambyr Childers), now directed by her cold and callous father Frank (Bill Sage), to take on the very unconventional matriarchal duties. You’ll find no Martha Stewarts’ or Julia Childs’ in this kitchen trust me. The constant craving for food by little Rory (Jack Gore), echoes an unsettling undercurrent throughout the movie when all outwardly appearances indicate that food should be aplenty.
We are given glimpses that something sinister has gone awry in this tight knit rural community as missing posters of young girls’ dot the sign posts and teeth and bone fragments start finding their way to Doc Barrow (Michael Parks). As Iris and younger sister Rose (Julie Garner), long to break free from the constricting death grip of their domineering father and have a “normal” upbringing, tension builds as the complicated preparations for the first real dinner begins. The constant unease etched on the joyless faces of Rose and Iris never really leaves you as the pending storm between father and his voiceless daughters’ starts to gather.
Director Jim Mickle shows why “We Are What We Are” deserves the opening gala premiere at this year’s festival. Building on a contrarian horror narrative of being tonally quiet with isolationist frame of reference and anchored by an array of fully formed characters worthy of this slow burn breaks with the traditional race and chase, grab and stab formula we’ve come to expect in mainstream horror. This investment upfront allows us to bear witness and recoil to the truly horrific extended sequences we are presented with in the final act.
Verdict 4 out of 5: This re-imagining rarely stumbles and the result is one of the more unassuming yet remarkable horror films of late—one that does not rely on sudden shocks or outrageous gore to get under the skin of its viewers. Strong quiet performances are not usually what one associates with the horror genre but then again, “We Are What We Are” isn’t your normal run-of-the-mill horror. Standout turns by Bill Sage as the menacing tortured patriarch and newcomers Ambyr Childers and Julie Garner shine brightest. Kudos to Mickle for delivering a horror that shines outside the normal confines of the genre.
Final Thought: You truly are what you eat.
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Director: Jim Mickle
Writers: Nick Damici, Jorge Michel Grau, Jim Mickle
Original Screenplay: Jorge Michel Grau
Producers: Rodrigo Bellott, Andrew Corkin, Nicholas Shumaker, Jack Turner, Nicholas Kaiser
Release Date: October, 2013
Runtime: 105 Minutes
Cast: Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Laurent Rejto, Julie Garner, Ambyr Childers, Jack Gore, Bill Sage, Kelly McGillis, Wyatt Russell, Michael Park, Annemarie Lawless