The opening gala film of the 8th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival comes from director Jim Mickle, who previously directed the films Mulberry Street, which opened the festival in 2007, and Stake Land, which won the TIFF Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award in 2010. The film focuses on two sisters, who are are struggling to continue their family’s cannibalistic traditions. After the sudden tragic death of her mother, Iris Parker (Ambyr Childers) is told by her stern and religious father Frank (Bill Sage) to inherit the responsibilities of their yearly “Lamb’s Day” celebration. Iris’ younger sister Rose (Julia Garner) is highly conflicted about her family’s traditions and desires to get away and live a normal life. Meanwhile, local coroner Doc Barrow (Michael Parks) finds a bone in the creek while walking his dog, of which the subsequent investigation results in the Parker’s secret being in danger of being found out.
We Are What We Are is a loose remake of 2010 Mexican film of the same name. Other than themes involving cannibalism, I have to say that the film comes off much more like a family drama than a horror film. Of course, there is still a disturbing subtext about a family, who make it a tradition to eat people. The most chilling scene in the film actually comes when the youngest Parker child Rory sucks on someone’s thumb, then bites it, saying “I’m hungry.” That moment definitely sent chills down my spine.
Unlike the infamous Italian cannibal films, like Cannibal Holocaust, We Are What We Are does not really treat the subject in a visceral manner. In some ways, I would say that director Jim Mickle does for cannibals what he did for vampires in Stake Land. This is much more sombre and realistic take on the subject, which does not focus too much on blood and gore, despite there being some quite violent scenes in the film. In fact, much of the horror comes from Frank Parker’s heavily religious justification for why the family eats people. He is definitely is a quite frightening figure in the film.
Much of the film is built upon the great performances of the two female leads, who somewhat reluctantly have to follow the tradition of killing and cooking someone for their yearly Lamb’s Day feast. While the girls, particularly Rose, don’t want be cannibals, as the title says, it might be something that is just engrained into their DNA. Without saying too much, I do have to say that it is quite chilling where these girls end up. I also enjoy any film that has Michael Parks (best known for his work with Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Kevin Smith) in a role. It’s heavily suggested that Doc Barrow’s daughter was a previous victim on the Parker’s tradition, so you really sympathize with him as he investigates the bones he find in the creek near the Parker’s residence.
Overall, I have to say that We Are What We Are was a sombre and chilling cannibal family drama and it was a fine way to kick off Toronto After Dark8 | LIKED IT