Directed by Jim Mickle
Starring Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner
“We Are What We Are” is such an incredibly deliberate, unhurried film you might forget that you are watching a horror film. This is a good thing. Director Jim Mackle’s film is in no hurry, clearly laying out that trouble lies ahead but we will take our sweet time getting there. The film is both beautiful and unnerving at the same time. I was reminded of the painting American Gothic, it’s somehow visually alluring while possessing qualities that are disturbing.
The Parker family, well, something just isn’t right about them. It’s hard to immediately pinpoint but something is clearly wrong. They live in a rural community that feels out of step with modern society. The film opens with Emma (the mother of the family) walking to butchers market/convince store that would have felt perfectly at home in the 1890’s. After leaving the store she collapses and dies, setting into motion a chain of events mysterious and, eventually, gruesome.
It is readily apparent that Frank Parker (Bill Sage) is a religious zealot somewhere between Fred Phelps and an isolated Jim Jones, bending scripture to his own wacky ideals. He raises his daughters, Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner), and son Rory (Jack Gore), by this shall we say less than traditional set of spiritual principals. The siblings talk of fasting before “Lamb’s Day,” a ceremony for which Iris is expected to now fill in for Emma. And while no one says what it is, exactly, we’re certainly given to believe we’re better off not finding out.
Every element of this film is leading and threating us with its inevitable conclusion. Mickle does not give us the typical horror-movie resolution. Instead, we get something much more ambiguous and every bit as satisfying (with more than enough gore). With its lush look, uniformly excellent acting, slow cadences and unhurried unravelling, “We Are What We Are” rewards your patience without skimping on the substance. I have a feeling this will be a divisive film as most great films are.
This film is built on atmosphere and tension. The costume design, set design and cinematography all support the wonderful performances from our three leads. While I would say this film feels fairly rooted in reality it is a heightened cinematic experience that left me both exhausted and satisfied. Jim Mickle is one of a growing number of young horror directors who are breathing new life in the long suffering genre. Jim Mickle and Ti West make films that feel like they could have been made in the 1970s and I think that has something to do with the demand for independent film from the streaming and VOD outlets. While the multiplexes are giving us nothing more than explosions, monsters and spandex Netflix, Hulu and iTunes are giving us smaller more interesting films that deserve our attention and Jim Mickle is a director you should be watching.