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“It.” That’s how the heavily guarded “family tradition” is continually referred to in We Are What We Are, Jim Mickle’s remake of a 2010 Mexican film of the same name. “It’s what we do,” the stern father tells his daughters. “What if we refused to do it?” the younger daughter asks her woman-of-the-house sibling. The timid one loses the battle—“it” is going to happen, come hell or high water.
Both hell and high water are prominent here, as persistent heavy rains flood the Parker family’s small town, which makes it more difficult for authorities to close in on the reclusive clan as the teen girls (Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers) and their young brother (Jack Gore) become increasingly isolated in a bleak, dark house with Daddy Dearest (Bill Sage). And that tradition may be heavily guarded in the film, but—alert! spoiler ahead!—anyone who’s seen the trailer will likely have a good idea of the gist going in, which can be confirmed by accidentally reading the wrong synopsis online: “It” is people. People eating people.
Co-adapted by Mickle and Nick Damici, an actor with whom Mickle collaborated on screenplays for his first two clunky films, Mulberry Street and Stake Land, We Are What We Are is more creepshow than horror, with a gothic, slow-building X Files tone. When the Parkers lose electricity, their candlelit home matches the family’s 19th-century look—the daughters in simple farm-girl dresses, and the father sporting old-fashioned facial hair, vests, and button-downs. You feel the daughters’ fear of and submission to their father, but gore is nearly nonexistent; most scenes are eerily quiet with few cheap scares.
Mickle’s stylization of the story helps make it compelling enough—the daughters, while they are the sane ones, still resemble The Shining’s nightmarish twins. But throughout the movie, you’ll probably think, “Is that all there is?” Just wait for it: The final, gleefully macabre scenes serve as a masterful counterbalance to the rest of the film’s restraint, ensuring that the blood spills when it counts. Mickle’s remake may not scare you, but it will leave you smiling.