I want to say Chad Crawford Kinkle’s backwoods thriller Jug Face prepared me for Jim Mickle’s remake of We Are What We Are, but the latter had just a little more, um, bite to it – slowly peeling back each dirty secret that the Parker family has been hiding. As far as English language remakes go, Mickle and writing buddy Nick Damici pay proper tribute to Jorge Michel Grau’s original Spanish language film while injecting the most red, white, and blue blooded influence possible. I expected nothing less from the duo who created an underground horror hit in Stake Land, and it’s reassuring to see that Mickle’s keen, stylistic eye wasn’t just some beginners luck. Jim Mickle brings a dirty, grimy vision to his horror films, setting up the dark, disturbing secrets of the Parker family with a nasty Southern twang.
We meet the Parker family at the death of their mother/wife Emma (Kassie Wesley DePaiva), leaving behind daughters Rose (Julia Garner) and Iris (Ambyr Childers), husband Frank (Bill Sage), and youngest son Rory (Jack Gore). While grieving, the family anticipates the arrival of Lambs Day, a religious holiday that concludes a weekend’s worth of fasting. We learn Lambs Day is somewhat of a Parker family tradition, but with the passing of Emma, Iris is forced to take over important duties as she’s now the oldest woman in the household. As Lambs Day approaches, Frank’s health starts decreasing, and his daughters try to care for him when possible – but they’re too busy worrying about something else. Lambs Day may not just be a harmless religious ceremony like we first assumed, and it just might have something to do with the missing girls who keep vanishing from town. We are what we are, we can’t change that – right?
I’ve been saying this forever, but there’s nothing more horrifying than humans blindly believing in some religious/cult-like behavior. Looking at the Parker family, Lambs Day is a ceremony carried out year after year, lead by parents Emma and Frank. Paying tribute to their ancestors, these parent’s wild beliefs corrupt Iris and Rose, as Rory is luckily too young still to comprehend what sick, twisted games are being played. The problem is, Iris and Rose don’t know any better, as children are supposed to look to their parents for guidance. This is where the true, searing, burning horror exists with Mickle’s more heavy-handed backstory, as we struggle with both sympathizing and fearing the Parker girls. They’re unfortunately victims of circumstance, and We Are What We Are showcases the lasting impressions parents have on their children, and the responsibility they have to raise young minds properly – or brainwash them through insane rituals.
Speaking of Iris and Rose, Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner play strong lead roles as two children caught in a moral struggle between family and sanity, showing knowledge of their actions being wrong, yet also showing devout family loyalty by listening to their weakening father – with a dash of fear thrown in as well. The tumultuous drama that’s tearing these girls apart inside is conveyed rather well, through their rigid, statue-like posture, to their emotional breakdowns during more heinous acts, keeping human traits intact for audiences to still grasp. These wonderful performances pose a brilliant question though – is there a difference between “bad” people doing bad things, and “good” people doing bad things?
Not to be outdone, Bill Sage delivers a hypnotizing genre performance himself as Pa’ Parker, bordering the lines of evangelical mastermind and deranged lunatic. I like the choice of leaving the father alive, providing a more stern presence to force Iris and Rose into completing their ritual. We saw the weak state Emma was in, and if she was left alive as was Grau’s choice, Iris and Rose wouldn’t have experience the severity in their struggles, as Frank was a dominant foe. Sage sent chills running up and down my spine with every questioning stare, commanding his daughters on presence alone. True horror isn’t a crazy man with a knife. No. True horror is a more intelligent man with skewed beliefs, influential enough to make others follow in his footsteps – Frank Parker.
We Are What We Are is a grungy horror/thriller that simmers at a slow burn, mixing in special ingredients that might upset a few stomachs, but as far as remakes go, it plays favorably compared to the original. Avoiding true copycat developments, Jim Mickle and Nick Damici take Grau’s story and make it their own, presenting more of a companion film than remake. Some may become restless with the pacing, but as time passed and Lambs Day crept closer, I felt nothing but cold, chilling tension as Iris and Rose prepared for their big day. I know some of you know exactly what I’m talking about considering the Parker’s big meal, but for those still in the dark, stay that way – it’ll make Mickle’s savagely explosive ending all the more rewarding. Ugh, I’m still having trouble looking at red meat…
We Are What We Are pits the ideas of personal choice against the influence of our upbringing in a story that simmers slowly until coming to an explosive boil, overflowing with savage brutality.