aka SOMOS LO QUE HAY
Directed & written by Jorge Michel Grau
Starring Alan Chavez, Adrián Aguirre, Francisco Barreiro, & Carmen Beato
If folks walked into WE ARE WHAT WE ARE five minutes late, one might not even know they were watching a horror film. At its core, the film is a drama about a family in crisis. The caretaker of the family, in this case, the patriarch, has passed away and the rest of the family must decide how to pick up the pieces, how to keep the family together, and how to survive. The drama that ensues is what one would suspect. Family members attack one another. There are scenes of hopelessness, sadness, and rage. All of the stages of grief are represented here. As I said, this would be your typical drama about grief, if not for the fact that this drama is occurring around a family of cannibals.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is directed by Jorge Michel Grau, a director who has an obvious love for classic horror. The soundtrack alone, reminiscent of the best Hitchcockian string-plucking operatic soundtracks, immediately lets you know that this is a horror film. Grau’s patience as a director is the highlight of this film. He takes is time and immediately, even if this wasn’t a subtitled film, you know this is a foreign film because of the time Grau spends fleshing out this family and their story. This is not a flashy film. There are no jump scares. The unpolished look of the film is what makes it all the more real and all the more powerful. This is a straight forward look at a family in a horrible situation and the horrible things they do to cope with that situation. The structure of the family is intricate and complex.
A lot of time is spent establishing who each family member is, what their role is in the family, and how they interact with one another. Alfredo is the oldest son and looks a lot like a young Mexican Jeffrey Combs, expected to take the reigns when news of his father’s death appears, but he is conflicted about this role, the acts the family must do to survive, and his own sexuality. This conflict is the core of the film, as Alfredo is torn between stern expectations to step into his father’s shoes from his ballsy little sister, Sabina and challenged for this role by his impulsive and easily-angered younger brother, Julian. Simmering under the radar is their mother who is completely unstable and not dealing with the death of her husband well.
The opening moments of this film set the tone as the camera follows the family’s patriarch as he makes his last steps through a neighborhood mall. Vomiting black fluid before gasping his last breath, the body is quickly whisked away and cleaned up as if nothing had ever happened. Right away, director Grau establishes that this is a horror the authorities don’t want anyone to know about. A pair of police detectives set out to find out who this man is and become intrigued when a human finger is extracted from his stomach during an autopsy. They decide to investigate despite the departments attempts to cover it up. But police involvement is the least of this family’s problems. The family immediately has to scramble to continue where the father left off. A ritual must be performed in order to ward off…something. I kept wondering if and when this film would derail into fantasy as the countdown toward the ritual got lower, but that’s not the point of this film.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is about the horror of desperation and how that can shatter an entire family. Grau patiently sets up the players and takes his time building the tension to a feverish climax as all players gather. The result is an explosive finale that hits you on a visual, visceral, and cerebral level all at once. Gore hounds, fear not. There are copious amounts of blood to be shed here. I heard more than one gasp from the crowd as Sabina bites into the leg of a victim and savors the blood with deep slurps. But aside from the gore, it’s the more cerebral scenes of disparity that chills you more deeply. Scenes such as the daytime attempt to snatch a small child from under a bridge and the prostitute abduction and drop off scenes are more horrific than ten Hollywood fright fests. The song in the middle of the film sung my a woman in a subway brought chills to my spine at the genius juxtaposition of beauty and terror. The horror in WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is as relevant as it is terrifying in that it reflects the desperation many families face today and how far one Mexican family can bend before that desperation breaks them.