Friday, January 10, 2014

We Are What We Are (2013): And Today's Special Is.......

I've expressed my undying indifference to remakes many times in the past on this very blog, even trashed several along the way.  And though I'm always hoping against hope for filmmakers to come up with original ideas (i.e. Jug Face, thank you very much!), I have witnessed  some very good - perhaps even excellent - remakes over the years.

Movies such as The Thing (1982), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Fly (1986)...all of these are downright smashingly great, there's no doubt.  And even to some extent, films like 2010's Let Me In showed that a re-envisioning of a movie can work, even if it's only a few years since the film has been done. 

I do tend to find that sometimes if the film is foreign it's easier to experience as a remake, as Let Me In did, as well as a film from this past year that is ending up on quite a few year-end honors lists, with good reason.

We Are What We Are, directed by Jim Mickle (Stake Land, Mulberry Street), is a prime example of how to do a remake right.  I was so impressed with this film from start to finish. It presents a subject so taboo in such a way that we ultimately feel sorry for the family involved, and truly hope it all works out - when in reality we should be locking them up and throwing away the key.

If you've already seen the first-rate original, then you'll know what subject I'm talking about. I don't think I'm giving anything away by telling you that the Parker family has a disturbing secret. A fairly nasty one that is steeped in their family's old-time traditions and apparently one that they (at least the father) are unwilling to deviate from.

Suffice it to say, daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) are becoming increasingly more disenchanted with the family's customs and even more so when tragedy befalls their mother as she gathers supplies at the local market.  She suffers what appears to be a stroke and meanders outside the store. Meanwhile, a serious rainstorm whips through the small town, causing flash flooding. In her confusion, she slips and falls, hitting her head and lands in a drainage ditch that swiftly fills with water, effectively drowning her in quick order.

Even as the family grieves, Iris, as the eldest child, is expected to assume the matriarchal duties of the household. This includes preparing the family meals - which unfortunately does not consist of just opening a box of Kraft macaroni & cheese.   As her father Frank (Bill Sage) spews his religious bullshit and directs his impressionable younger not to be afraid and to follow Jesus, Iris is busy getting reacquainted with a local boy she went to school with who is now the sheriff's deputy.

As the Parker family grieves and makes their own special blend of homemade soup, the town doctor begins to investigate and furthermore becomes suspicious after his dog uncovers a bone that has washed up from the constant deluge plaguing the town. Naturally, it's not an animal bone, causing Doctor Barrow (the always impeccable Michael Parks, Red State) to realize there's something fishy going on in his little town. Add in the fact that there have been several people that have gone missing within a thirty mile radius of the town over the years (including the Doctor's own daughter), and he is forced to consider what the facts are blatantly telling him.  He also discovers something else too bizarre to comprehend.  The Parker family mother, upon autopsy, was showing signs of a rare disease known as Kuru - which is prevalent only in tribal regions of Papua New Guinea.
Google it, people.

We Are What We Are is honestly fantastic. Even though the story is nothing if not incredibly bleak, and the material is certainly beyond the pale, anyone watching the film won't be able to look away.  The performances are all stellar, but Childers and Garner are just sublime. I haven't been that impressed with acting in a horror film in years (though again, mention must be made of Jug Face and in particular Lauren Ashley Carter). The depth of feeling they exude so effortlessly makes them seem well beyond their young years. It would be hard to choose one over the other, but if pressed I'd have to congratulate Julia Garner for her stunning and honest portrayal. She is assuredly a blossoming talent and one to watch.

Also thrown in for some relatively important pivotal scenes is Kelly McGillis in a supporting role as a caring neighbor helping the family through their grief.
The littlest Parker family member Rory (Jack Gore) is a bright little spot in an otherwise morose and weather-beaten (yet excellent) storyline that rivals any depressing period film. His life seems relatively unchanged, even without his mother. And to hear the poor little guy always complaining of being hungry certainly pulls at your heartstrings. Until, that is, you find out what's for dinner.

So don't write off this remake because it came so soon after the original 2010 Mexican thriller.  If you've seen that one (as I have) you may have reservations, thinking you don't need to see another re-telling so soon. You'd be wrong.  The stories differ very much,  aside from the premise. And both are quite worthy of a look.  But if I was being completely honest (and why wouldn't I be?), I think I prefer this Americanized version about twice as much.
 Definitely one of the best of 2013. Hands down.


Anonymous said...

Great review of my favorite horror film of 2013. I really need to see the original . . . .


Marie Robinson said...

I loved the original! Did I review it on here? I can't remember! I was very hesitant about this one but I feel better knowing you approve. It's interesting how they swapped genders of the characters!

Christine Hadden said...

@Marie: I actually liked this American version better than the Mexican one. (And that kind of thing rarely happens!)
Let me know what you think!