Movie Number– 97
Title– We Are What We Are (2011)
Running Time– 89 minutes (“Not Rated”)
Director– Jorge Michel Grau
Writer– Jorge Michel Grau
Starring– Carmen Beato, Paulina Gaitan, Francisco Barreiro, and Alan Chávez
(Originally an IP Movies Review)
Cannibal films seem to play second fiddle nowadays in the horror genre. This subgenre thrived with exploitation films of the ‘70s and ‘80s, with the “cannibal boom” era being 1977 to 1981. Today, we see vampires, werewolves, and remakes taking over the genre, which is why it is so refreshing to see first-time director Jorge Michel Grau’s Spanish cannibal film, We Are What We Are. Unlike the cannibal films that have come before it, though, We Are trades exploitation for a thought-provoking, and intense family drama.
We Are opens with an unexplained death of an older man. We come to find out that, before dying, this man was a patriarch, with two sons, a daughter, and a wife. The grieving family must now figure out how to survive without their father and husband to provide for them. Most importantly, the family must prepare for their ritual, which requires not only the taking of, but also the consuming of another human life.
Writer and director Jorge Michel Grau manages excellence in quite a few areas. The one that stands out the most has to be his decision to use long shots, even in the most brutal scenes. These lengthy shots add a sense of realism, and help the claustrophobic atmosphere of the dank, dark family home invade the viewer’s mind. This is one of the few films where showing less gore works. The film was shot with a small budget, and Grau replaces expensive special effects with masterful camera techniques, and it works better than 90% of the horror films I’ve seen in the past few years. Don’t get me wrong: We Are has a lot of blood; what makes the blood memorable, though, is how realistically it is produced.
The word “realistic” is one that bleeds into virtually every aspect of this film, and it is what makes We Are so disturbing. The perfect casting of Carmen Beato as Patricia – the mother – is the heart that keeps the creepiness of the family beating. She is, at times, cold and powerful, but also meek and sympathetic; no matter what, though, she is always ruthless. Beato’s veteran acting ability leads the much younger cast, who all rise up to Beato’s level. Paulina Gaitan (Sabina), Francisco Barreiro (Alfredo), and Alan Chávez (Julian) are all excellent young talents that have a bright future in film. Barreiro steals the show mostly because his character goes through the biggest arc in the story, and his changes – from dealing with becoming the new patriarch, his qualms with his mother, and his own sexual identity – are worth watching the film alone. Paulina Gaitan is beautiful and seductive, even to her own brother, which makes her character engaging. Alan Chávez’s Julian character is ferocious, and his actions call his past into question. Julian is definitely the most outwardly violent character in the film, but little is done to explain why this is. That small criticism aside, all the main characters in We Are are three-dimensional, and force the viewer to take notice. That’s a sentence not often seen when discussing a cannibal film.
Jorge Michel Grau makes the choice to leave a lot of gray area in We Are. There are few straight answers, and this may turn off some viewers. Why this ritual must take place, or the specifics of it are never really explained. The same can be said for the father figure that sparks this newfound rift in the family: how did he die? How did he handle this family’s business before his passing? These are just some of the many questions left unanswered. In some films, this vagueness would be a negative, but in We Are, it merely adds to the depth, grunginess, and realism of the film.
We Are is not for impatient viewers. The pacing is unquestionably slow. Fortunately the film’s climax is worth the wait, and even though the final act will be too muddy for some, We Are What We Are still stands out as one of the most interesting horror films, and best cannibal films, I’ve seen in years. This will surely develop a cult following in years to come, but there’s no reason to wait until then to check it out. We Are What We Are is absolutely recommended.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.