Home Video Hovel: We Are What We Are, by Sarah Brinks
Family and faith are two things that most people would do almost anything for. They are also two topics widely explored in cinema. Often films about family and faith make us ask ourselves: how far would I go to protect my family and my beliefs? We Are What We Are explores the Parker family’s limits and the depths of their convictions.
We Are What We Are begins with a woman in a local general store buying supplies in the middle of a torrential rainstorm. The woman appears to be a little dazed; she walks out to her car after glancing at a poster of a missing woman. She begins to bleed out of her mouth and collapses into a puddle of water and drowns. She was carrying supplies that included rope and a flashlight. We see later that she has a husband and three children, two teenage girls and a little boy. The boy Rory complains of being hungry. His sisters give him milk and tell him they can’t eat because they are fasting. The police then come and tell them their mother has drowned to death. You know from the beginning of the film that something is wrong and that the Parker family has a secret. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the trailer for the film makes it clear what the family’s secret is so I will only reveal what you see in the trailer. The local doctor finds a human bone in the creek bed after the storm and gets the police involved. The Parker family in the mean time must decide whether to continue on with their annual tradition of killing and eating a woman or if their mothers death can signify a new beginning.
We Are What We Are’s best feature is its cast. The two young women who play Iris Parker (Ambyr Childers) and Rose Parker (Julia Garner) carry the whole film and they do it very well. Both girls meet head on the difficult acting challenge of staying sympathetic while still remaining true to their family’s way of life and beliefs. You see their desire to escape, their fear of the unknown, and the fear of being left behind. Kelly McGillis plays their neighbor, Marge. McGillis has the perfect energy of the small-town-busybody-neighbor. She also may or may not have feelings for Frank, the father of the Parkers, and that ambiguity really works in the film. Bill Sage plays Frank, Sage rules over every scene he is in the way Frank rules over his family. Sometimes it feels like a little too much, but his performance works with the character and the context of the film.
The cannibal aspect of the film is its most sensational but also its least interesting element. The film is really about family, faith, and the mystique of tradition. Seeing this movie very shortly after Christmas gave me an interesting prospective on it that I might not have had at a later time in the year. The film’s director discusses in the special features the motivations behind the Parkers’ actions. Similar to how Christmas is an event that happens once a year where families gather and go through rituals that are abandoned the rest of the year, the same is true of Parker’s with their annual “fast and feast”. You see Iris and Rose constantly pushing each other to abandon the act and rebel against the ritual. What I liked about the film is its consistent commitment to showing how important this ritual is to all of them. The father Frank is the closest to a monster the film gets but even his motivations are understandable, as he truly believes that they need to do it in order to stay in God’s favor.
We Are What We Are has one element that really didn’t work for me. The family has their own bible in which it tells the history of their family and why they are the way they are. We are forced to sit through flashbacks to the start of the Parker family. The problem is the flashbacks really serve no purpose in the telling of the film’s story and either needed to be a much bigger part of the film or left completely out. One element that did really work for me was how the film made me feel when you finally see the family eat. The mere act of putting food in their mouth is almost grotesque. There is another scene of their neighbor lady eating vegetarian lasagna, which is juxtaposed with the girls committing a terrible act, and the result is just as stomach turning as the actual cannibalism.
The DVD has a decent selection of special features. It has an audio commentary with the cast and crew. It also has interviews with the cast and crew. The interviews were the most interesting feature. It was good to hear everyone’s take on their characters and the story. The DVD also has a “making of” feature that is pointless. It is fifty minutes of footage of them making the film. You don’t learn anything new from it, nor does it even tell you about the actual making of the film. While it is cool to see some of the props and sets a little closer, you really gain no knowledge from this feature.
We Are What We Are is not for the faint of heart or the faint of stomach. There are some pretty gruesome acts and ideas in the film. The fact that children are complicit in those acts only makes it more disturbing. There is also a pretty disturbing sex scene and a particularly grotesque denouement. The film is worth seeing, but more sensitive audiences may want to use caution.