We Are What We Are
The Parker’s are a reclusive family that likes to keep to themselves. During a time of torrential downpour, the family matriarch accidentally drowns while out running errands. The rest of the family is naturally devastated, but family tradition states that no matter the circumstances the Day of the Lamb must still be observed. According to patriarch Frank, that means that his daughters Iris and Rose must now assume their mother’s responsibilities. But the Parker’s are not your typical family with your typical customs, and the girls are having second thoughts about their beliefs, even at a time when the torrential rains continue to flood their small town, threatening to reveal their dark secret and the family’s survival may be at stake.
We Are What We Are is a 2013 American remake of the Mexican film Somos lo que hay from three years earlier. Or at least I suppose I should say, technically it’s a remake. In reality, the film is perhaps better described as a re-imaging, rather than a remake, as it really only retains the earlier film’s original premise, and little else. So if you haven’t seen the original film the American movie was based on, fear not. Each can be considered it’s own unique beast.
One of the few things both films have in common beyond the basic premise regarding the family secret (which I shall try not to spoil to the best of my ability), is the commentary regarding the absurdity of following all family traditions, even those you find immoral. Now, in the original film the reason, or at least part of the reason, for the family’s traditions were related to socioeconomics, as that film was more of a commentary of such conditions in Mexico at the time of filming. In the American version however, the secret is linked more with religion. Not so much as though the secret is a religion unto itself, but more so that over time, in this case over two hundred years, it’s been inexplicably intertwined with religion, specifically Christianity, to the point of fundamentalism. It’s clear that over time the family’s tradition has become highly steeped in ritual, to the point of devout obsession and punishment if their traditions are not adhered to. That it’s highly contradictory to their reported faith’s teachings, or even no longer necessary, unlike the incident that we learned that spawned it, doesn’t seem to cross their minds. Nor does the thought that they could just simply no longer practice it. It is a tradition. And because it is tradition, it must be followed, no questions asked. That’s just how things are.
But beyond those two things, and the issue I take with both films revealing the family secret far too early, the films share nothing in common. The tone of the films are different, locations are different, the characters are different, the levels of the fanaticism are different, the family situations are different, and even the motivations of the police are different. So if you’re curious about either film, or even both films, you needn’t worry. The stories are unique enough that you won’t spoil yourself if you choose to watch one before the other.
As for the American version itself, the film is handled remarkably well, regardless of whether you consider it a remake, a re-imagining, or whatever designation you choose to give it. The picture quality and cinematography are excellent and beautifully constructed, even in the darkest moments and during the most gruesome scenes. Everything from the composition to the lighting has been carefully considered, and even at its darkest you’ll have no issues figuring out what’s going on. So on a technical level, the film is without fault.
But I think the film’s most stand-out aspect is the incredibly solid cast. Billy Sage puts on an impressively disturbing performance as the family patriarch, who is not only stubbornly stuck in his ways, but also clearly heading towards a mental break. But I think it’s really Amber Childers and Julia Gardner, who play Iris and Rose respectively, who really carry the film. Their earnestness and innocent faces coupled with their confusion and inner struggle as they second guess themselves and their father, are the beating heart of the entire movie, and the two women fulfill their roles perfectly.
We Are Who We Are is a very solid film, but it’s not going to impress everyone. The acting and visuals are excellent. But while the pacing and story are strong and steady, there is no doubt that this is designated as a subtle, “slow-burn” of a film, with the horror slowly building up over time before it finally crescendos into a gruesome blood-fest at the finale, which fits the story presented, but admittedly isn’t going to appeal to all tastes. The only real qualm I, and likely others may have, is that the movie doesn’t do a very good job of keeping the family secret hidden from the viewer long enough. It acts like it’s trying to hide it, but I guarantee most viewers will figure it out long before the film’s “big reveal”. But other than that, the film is a very solid, subtle, almost Gothic horror tale about how long held secrets can ultimately destroy a family. So if you’re looking for a moody, atmospheric horror film that likes to slowly build up the tension and get into your head, then We Are Who We Are may be a good choice for you. But if you’re looking for something with a much faster pace, then you may want to look elsewhere.
We Are Who We Are is available on a variety of streaming services.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray.