28 March 2011

DVD Review: We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay)

Reviewer: Pierre Badiola
Rated: 15 (UK)
DVD Release Date: Out Now
DirectorJorge Michel Grau
CastFrancisco BarreiroAlan ChávezPaulina Gaitan

Marketed as "doing for cannibals what Let The Right One In did for vampires”, Mexican director Jorge Michel Grau’s first feature film gained a curiously wide cinematic release in November of last year and is now out on DVD and Blu-ray.

The story of an impoverished family with a dark secret centers around it’s children; Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro) the eldest and most rational brother, Julian the black sheep (the late Alan Chávez) and sister Sabina (Paulina Gaitan), the matriarch in training. At the beginning of the film we witness the main breadwinner and patriarch collapse in the middle of a shopping center and for the remaining duration we see the siblings come to terms with their new familial roles in his absence. But the macabre undercurrent that bubbles beneath this adult ascension story is of course the fact that they eat people!

Despite the bloodthirsty marketing blurbs that accompany the film (“A cannibal gore-fest!”, says Dread Central), there is actually very little onscreen killing or gore and the inclusion of horror elements is quite spare — the majority of it saved for an explosive and satisfying last act. In this sense it could be comparable to Let The Right One In and fans of that subdued mood of gothic creepiness will find a lot to like here.

But the most interesting themes of the film are those that sidestep horror completely. Distressed matriarch (Carmen Beato) seems eager to make sure an important cannibalistic ritual goes ahead in their father’s absence and depends on eldest Julian to bring back fresh meat. The ‘event’ is what the film builds up to, but it’s purpose or meaning is never clearly defined. There are reminders of it everywhere; the family runs a stall at the local market that repairs watches, and the mother has taken to repairing wall clocks at home, where ticking clocks of all variations clutter the walls. Time, ritual and the upkeep of such regularity is of utmost importance to this family. But to what end? Even the title hints at a problematic solipsism.

This question is what Alfredo wrestles with, much to the dismay of his assured siblings, and scenes where he discovers new sides of his personality that are at odds with tradition are the schisms We Are What We Are is interested in.

A metaphor for the abject and stagnant state of Mexico’s social problems (both in poverty and crime), We Are What We Are is an intriguingly layered commentary baked as an arthouse film and served as a grindhouse film. Hope you’re hungry!

Movie Rating: 3.5/5


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