Saturday, February 19, 2011

We Are What We Are: Hungry for Power, and Literally Too

We Are What We Are
Written and Directed by: Jorge Michel Grau
Starring: Francisco Barreiro, Alan Chavez, Paulina Gaitan, and Carmen Beato
Director of Photography: Santiago Sanchez, Editor: Rodrigo Rios, Production Designer: Alejandro Garcia, Original music: Enrico Chapela
Rated: Unrated, but plenty of cannibal-related gore

    Horror films often come with allegories. The creatures that inhabit the screen space that we could never imagine our often representations of our own cultural fears. We see Frankenstein and think about the danger of man. Zombies represent capitalist drive to desire more and more and simply consume everything. But what do cannibals mean?
    I’m not sure that Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are, a refreshing if not entirely pleasant diversion of a film, has an answer for that. In fact, the cannibalism element that sits at the center of this film itself is a hook into the story of a family power struggle. And yet, the reason the film is fun to watch is also its Achilles heel—Mr. Grau is so irreverent and comical in his direction thatWe Are What We Are feels like a midnight movie in the making. 

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    That being said, Mr. Grau quickly establishes his familiarity in the genre space. He opens with an old man, walking around a shopping mall, almost like a zombie. He coughs up black vomit, and collapses dead, and a team quickly and efficiently removes him and the mess with a quick pace as not to disturb anyone else in the mall. We then visit the man’s family, a poor one made up of a mother, a daughter, and two competitive sons. They are in trouble they tell us. They need to perform the ritual before time runs out, which we can tell by the 100 ticking clocks scattered around their dilapidated home. And when a pair of detectives see the father’s dead body at the morgue, they learn a finger was in his stomach.
    The story then folds in two—one following the bumbling cops who might be corrupt (a useless diversion) and the family, who must cope with the vacuum of power left in the father’s absence. More than horror, this is a cruel family drama in which each member competes for the void. Weaving together harsh musical tones and a flying camera, Mr. Grau uses nods to both a neorealist tradition of capturing poverty, but also Hitchcock and De Palma. While Mr. Grau’s characters act in utter sincerity about their desperation, the camera winks to us, acknowledging that this is in all good fun.
    The sheer trashiness and absurdity of We Are What We Are is easy to have fun with, in a film that is certainly indebted to films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Family comes first for the subjects of We Are What We Are, though more than a little blood gets spilled along the way. 

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