We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) (2010)
Directed by: Jorge Michel Grau
Distributors: IFC Films (US) Artificial Eye (UK)
Release date: 12th November 2010 (UK) TBC 2011 (US)
Starring: Paulina Gaitan, Alan Chávez, Francisco Barreiro, Carmen Beato
Review by: Stephanie Scaife
Jorge Michel Grau’s debut feature We Are What We Are is a Mexican cannibal tale that has drawn many comparisons with Let the Right One In, and although this may be slightly unfair as they are both very different and worthy of merit in their own right I can see where the comparison comes from. The horror aspect, here cannibalism, is secondary to the main themes of the story, that of isolation, deprivation, skewed and deteriorating family dynamics.
The film opens with the family provider and patriarch dropping dead in a bourgeois shopping mall, leaving his 3 adolescent children and unhinged wife to fend for themselves. Traditionally this means that the eldest son Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro) must assume his position as the man of the family and become responsible for putting the food on the table. This would be hard enough at the best of times in a seedy, destitute area of contemporary Mexico City even without the whole hunger for human flesh thing. However, it soon becomes apparent that nothing is as it seems in this film and the real power within the family lies with the sister Sabina (Paulina Gaitan); she is calculating and suggestive, and her control over her brothers ultimately results in their downfall. Closeted Alfredo clearly wrestles with deep-seated guilt, regarding what he needs to do to help his family survive and with his burgeoning sexuality, whilst the volatile younger brother Julian (Alan Chávez) lashes out verbally and physically at those around him and it is hinted at that his relationship with his sister is incestuous, or at least he’d certainly like it to be.
The family here is a literal metaphor for the dog-eat-dog society in which they live, when compared to those around them: resourceful gangs of street children, prostitutes that refuse to be victims and who exact horrific revenge on those who’ve wronged them, and police detectives whose greed and desire to forward their careers is stronger than that to actually bring any criminals to justice.
The performances are all strong and believable, particularly Carmen Beato as the slowly unraveling mother who, despite her family’s murderous habit still lives by her own self-imposed moral code, seemingly resulting from her late husband’s fondness for the local prostitutes. The cinematography is also impressive, giving the film a sense of grim realism and banality even in the most shocking scenes.
Overall I felt that this was an accomplished and original film, especially considering it’s from a first time director, and although it’s more of a slow burning family drama than out and out horror there are still plenty of horrific moments and subtle hints that are far more frightening than blood and gore would have provided, so there is much to admire here for genre fans and art house lovers alike. I’d heard complaints that the film is boring and that it reverts to standard genre conventions towards the end, but I disagree entirely. This is definitely one of the most interesting and unique films that I’ve seen this year, and I thoroughly recommend checking it out.