Image: Artificial EyeWhile We Are What We Are, or Somos lo que hay, may not have the cross-over appeal of other recent foreign language art-house horrors like Let the Right One In (don’t believe the poster, the two films have hardly anything in common), this Mexican entry into the sub-genre is an impressive piece of work.
When their father dies in the middle of a shopping centre, Alfredo, Julian, and Sabina must decide who is to become the leader of the family while attempting to mollify their bitter mother. As the oldest, Alfredo is the natural choice, but does he have the strength to go out and get what is required for the family ritual? Meanwhile, the coroner has made an interesting discovery in the father’s stomach contents...
This definitely will not appeal to everyone. It’s very slow in places, and often very gory. None of the characters are sympathetic. Each member of the family is a distinctive monster in their own right, on top of their shared commitment to the ritual. They are cowardly, violent, and cruel. So, no one character to really get behind here. Meanwhile the police are ineffectual, uncaring, and, as it turns out, as monstrous as the family. The rest of the world is portrayed as busy, uncaring, and dirty. When the father collapses at the start of the film, he is removed by two cleaners, while a third quickly mops up the puddle of blood. Within seconds, shoppers are walking over the same spot.
Writer/director Jorge Michel Grau aims for realism with handheld shots of a busy marketplace and packed trains, and a grim and grimy colour scheme. The constant ticking of clocks reminds us that there is precious little time left for the family to find a suitable candidate for their ritual. We’re never really told what happens if they don’t complete it in time, nor why they are cannibals in the first place. Grau has also not made a horror film in terms of shocks and scares. The sequences during which the family attempt to kidnap victims are long and drawn-out, and show the difficult logistics of the situation. It also veers close to dark comedy. Fans of The League of Gentlemen will feel right at home with the strange tone and monstrous characters, superbly brought to life by the excellent cast.
The film could have been paced a little better, as Grau moves determinedly at his own speed. It also might have benefited from a little more exposition, although the lack of an explanation is better than a poor one. But while it has its faults, We Are What We Are is a strong piece of work from a filmmaker with a vision, and it builds to an excellent crescendo.
A slow, bloody film that’s definitely not for everyone. But for viewers willing to give it a chance, it’s a late-night treat.