Film Review – We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are

A man wanders through a Mexican shopping mall. Apparently dazed and confused, he collapses, and almost immediately his body is moved away by cleaners, who remove all trace of his passing.

His family, unaware, start the day without him, his two sons opening their market stall which does a trade in watch repair. Youngest brother, Julian gets into a fight with a customer and he and his brother Alfredo are told to leave the market as their father has not paid the rental on the stall. They return home to be told by their sister Sabine that their father is dead and Alfredo must now lead the family.

So far, so family drama. Except this family has more than it’s fair share of dysfunctionality. An overbearing mother, one son overwhelmingly sensitive, the other violent and irrational, and their sister, the smartest of the lot, in a Lady MacBeth kind of way. To round it all off, the family are cannibals, and Alfredo’s most important task is to bring someone home for the “ritual” they need to perform within the next day.

We Are What We Are is writer/director Jorge Michel Grau’s debut feature film and is an accomplished piece of work. Grau has taken “monstrous” characters and placed them firmly in a real world setting. Comparisons have been made to Let the Right One In, and it does share that same ideal of the extraordinary and the ordinary co-existing in the real world, with all characters having the same life problems.

It’s a slow paced film that gives time for situations to develop and chooses to focus on characters as much as plotting. When the pace steps up, Grau directs the action with an assured hand, and is very specific about what he chooses to show the audience.

The three young members of the family are all excellently cast. Francisco Barreiro captures Alfredo’s vulnerability perfectly. The scenes where he chooses a victim to bring home to the table are beautifully played, revealing a young man coming to terms with more than just the death of his father.

Paulina Gaitan as Sabine is the strongest of the three, who pushes her brothers in the right direction. Incredibly self-assured she recognises the patriarchal need for a male leader, but is the driving force behind most of their actions. Finally 18 year old Alan Chavez is excellent as youngest, Julian, in what became his final role. His death at age 18 is terribly saddening, as judging by his performance here he had a good career in front of him.

While the film revolves around familial relationships as much as the need to feed, it never feels melodramatic, as reflected in the title. They are what they are, for good or ill, not just defined by their need for human flesh. We Are What We Are refrains from being a schlocky exploitational cannibal film and instead manages to be thoughtful and thought provoking.

We Are What We Are opens in the UK on November 12th

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~ by moviegrrlreviews on October 2, 2010.

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