A remake of the 2010 Mexican horror film Somos lo que hay, Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are is a plate of atmospheric horror with enough dramatic tension to satisfy the palates of its genre’s pickiest fans.
The Parkers are a seemingly normal family, keeping to themselves while overseeing a well-run trailer park in their small rural town. When Emma, the mother of the family (Kassie DePaiva), suddenly dies from an unknown ailment, Emma’s husband Frank (Bill Sage) hands her responsibilities over to their daughters, Iris and Rose (Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner, respectively). The two daughters reluctantly carry out the family’s gruesome traditions but it becomes increasingly difficult to cover their tracks, as torrential storms threaten to wash away their hidden secrets they’ve been hiding for so many years—that is, unless the curious town doctor (Michael Parks) doesn’t dig them up first.
The film does show its horror roots by deviating to the generic tropes of jump scares and copious amounts of gore. However, these are used sparingly and are not the “meat” of the film’s sense of terror. Most of it comes from Mickle’s steady directorial hand as he constructs the film’s suspense through a calm camera and grounded scenes of confrontation. Even with the story elements of the backwoods/ “hillbilly” family with fanatic religious beliefs, nothing here feels extravagantly excessive or devolved solely to stereotypes. As a result, the film’s creepy universe seems that much more believable.
Ambiguous as they are (and sometimes irritatingly so), it is the characters that drive this piece. At times, the tension between them creates unbearably eerie suspense. Though their motives are at times unclear, daughters Iris and Rose are the standout leads. Unlike other horror heroines, these women are multi-faceted and complex. They’re not victimized and they don’t double as sex symbols. They struggle at coming to terms with their family, their past, and even their own differences. Childers and Garner both exude their characters‘ inner torment with elegance, never succumbing to melodrama or apathy. While other characters are written out almost too easily to keep up the film’s pace, it works with the story by not hampering their plot.
With capable performances, a creepy sense of realism, and a fantastically gruesome ending, We Are What We Are is a frightening and mature piece of drama that is modern horror done right.