I keep mis-remembering the title “We Are What We Are” as “We Are What We Eat.” And it seems that’s not so far off.
Spoilers allowing, maybe we can get to an explanation. In the meantime, this supremely creepy film finds a groove between arty horror and throttle-out craziness.
Director Jim Mickle, who did a cool job with the vampire movie “Stake Land,” adapted this one from a 2010 Mexican movie. He and co-writer Nick Damici have considerably changed the story around, and set it in the backcountry of the U.S. Northeast.
Our focus is a reclusive family, whose world is rocked when the mother dies suddenly in an accident, during a rainstorm of biblical proportions.
The patriarch (Bill Sage, an underrated actor) runs his household according to what appears to be a long-standing religious cult. He informs his teenage daughters that they must take over their mother’s duties during an annual family ceremony, due this week.
The daughters are played by two excellent young actresses, Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers. They somehow convey the watchful edginess of children who have grown up in an atmosphere that is both unspeakable but also normal life — for them.
We hold out hope that someone will interrupt this dire situation: the local doctor (the marvelous character actor Michael Parks), a helpful neighbor (Kelly McGillis), a local deputy (Wyatt Russell) with a sweet spot for the oldest daughter.
If Wyatt Russell — who has a nice understated style — looks familiar, it’s because he’s channeling the genes inherited from his parents, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn.
“We Are What We Are” is low-wattage for quite a while, with just enough foreboding (why are human bones washing up in the river near the family home? Why does the doctor say they’ve been cooked in a pot?) to make us stick around.
What isn’t quite expected is how the movie goes for blood-soaked Grand Guignol in its final sequences. I am guessing this film will please neither hardcore horror fans (too slow) nor art house mavens (too grisly). But it certainly is its own thing.
“We Are What We Are” (three stars)
A reclusive family practices the rituals of its own religious cult — an unsettling situation given a very slow build-up in this unusual movie. It’s probably too slow for hardcore horror fans and too grisly for art house mavens, but director Jim Mickle has made something distinctive here.
Rated: R for violence, nudity, subject matter.