Director Jim Mickle (Stake Land, Mulberry St.) tasked himself with remaking a film that only saw its release a few years ago (the lovely Somos Lo Que Hay by director Jorge Michel Grau). The original was a gritty and elegant and bloody and delicate all at the same time. It’s a film I really love and was, if I’m being totally honest, not happy to hear it was being remade. But, Stake Land is awfully good and I figure Mickle and Grau must’ve had a positive meeting of the minds to make this happen so with a clear and clean slate I ventured forth.
The film is really three films rolled into one: a somber rumination on the nature of ritual, tradition and faith, a thriller of the fingernails-into-the-armrest variety and a smattering of utterly batshit insane gonzo splattery exploitation film stuff seemingly out of left field (but honestly well-motivated by data sprinkled throughout). If this sounds like a nearly unmanageable divergence of styles and ideas, you might be right. It’s been a few days now and I still don’t have my head around the last 15-20 minutes of the film yet. Don’t know when that is going to happen but it may require seeing it again just to sort back through the sequence of events.
The film is really beautifully shot and all actors do a heckova job in their roles, particularly Ambyr Childers as the eldest daughter Iris Parker, Bill Sage as the Parker matriarch, Michael Parks as Doc Barrow and the always welcome Kelly McGillis as the concerned neighbor Marge. The lesser roles are all populated well and the film has a real authentic feel about it. The ground seems connected to these people and this grounded vibe puts any distractions to the main narrative arc on the back-burner. It all feels real due in no small part to the ensemble as a whole and how they all seem to intertwine into this washed-out, often melancholy backdrop of rural life, or Mickle’s version of it anyway. This graceful touch helps to bring things under control as the revelations about the family history (in, frankly, clumsy flashbacks) pop up as the main (present day) story unfolds. Without a strong eye and assured touch, the balance of flashback to present day wouldn’t be nearly as smooth as it is.
All in all, We Are What We Are is a measured, well-directed film that expands of the ideas put forth in the 2010 Mexican original. However the tonal shifts, odd motivations and gonzo third act do give it a slightly uneven feel in terms of understanding the story and consequences of it all (including the ever-present, relentless rain and what all it uncovers). With a little less back-and-forth (past to present) and more logical buildup to the finale’, We Are What We Are would be a classic. It might turn out to be, but as I said, a second viewing is near mandatory to marry start, middle and end of this unique film from an undisputedly talented director (and flat-great source material).