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TADFF 2013: We Are What We Are (2013)

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To be completely honest, “We Are What We Are” raised some very intriguing arguments and I’d like to discuss that first.

In the recent past, here in the modern day, or our near future, It’s hard to imagine cannibalism providing anything but disgust and confusion to us. It may tweak our interest and pull at the strings of our curiosity from time to time, but nothing more has or will ever come of it. And you can bet that those, if any, who partake in the consumption of the human body came forth nowadays, they’d be met with the strongest punishment we, as a race with morals and compassion feel comfortable deploying, at the very least they’d be segregated.

The reason for this hatred has grown so quickly and vast, and with good reason. Apart from the fact that to accomplish this act, one must end another. The need for sustenance hasn’t been that significantly dire in the western world for as long as one can remember. So the need for such deplorable behaviour is really irrelevant nowadays and murdering someone for such unnecessary purposes is extremely frowned upon. This achievement, if you will, is directly correlated with our evolution as a species. Whether it be socially, politically, industrially, etc…

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All this distancing and disgust being said, the question of our basic, elemental, natural survivalist instinct will always remain prominent. And as confident as we are that no matter how pressing the need to digest some form of physical intake is, we’d never resort to cannibalism…we simply cannot conclude this effectively. The truth is, none of us have been in a situation that calls for such drastic action, so how can any of us say that we’d never digest common flesh. While the film weaves its way through this subject briefly, what’s even more interesting is the more immediate topic “We Are What We Are” deals with, which is… What if cannibalism is all you’ve ever known? How would you feel participating in an act that is as normal to you as breathing? Director Jim Mickle’s take on these seemingly insane notions is the starting point for this terrific slow-burner. While it certainly isn’t the first, nor will it be the last to concoct a story around such a vile, yet nourishing act. It definitely captures the immensity, humanity, and seriousness of the subject.

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A remake of Jorge Michel Grau’s film of the same title. This tense, impeccably acted  hybrid composed of horror, drama, and thriller is as heartfelt and astonishing as it is unsettling and menacing. It’d be very easy to lose one’s way in the gory, abhorrent, violent nature of cannibalism, especially when conjuring up a film that needs to satisfy those aspects. While “We Are What We Are” definitely meets these disturbing requirements, it’s quite remarkable how tasteful carnage and destruction can actually be. Yes, there are moments that’ll make you cringe and leave you a bit queasy. Nonetheless, when stacked up alongside the emotions, conflicts, and beautiful imagery, it’s nothing more than another cinematic tactic. This is due in large part to the experience and talent of the aforementioned Jim Mickle who directed this flick and screenplay scribe Nick Damichi. The duo do a sublime job separating their film from the filth and trivialness of other horror abortions.

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Perhaps the most stunning feature of the film is the dark, ambient, gloomy atmosphere hovering over this strange, tragic little town. In between each blunt object to the head and soupy human stew, one feels completely at ease which makes the hard-to-stomach surprises all the more effective. A lot of this needs to be credited to Damichi’s progressive, humanized script and Mickle’s impressive camerawork…but even more so to the film’s trio of composers. The soundtrack is smooth and entrancing, never leaving you clawing at your eardrums. An abundance of horror flicks these days go for the ascending screech or ominous semitones, but not here. This is music you could listen to while gazing towards a skyline or a breathtaking night sky, hell, even when you’re trying to doze off…and in no way is this a bad thing.

As impressive and hypnotic as all the technical and behind-the-scenes mumbo-jumbo is, it’d be nothing without the right cast. “We Are What We Are” has a strong, invested, talented ensemble across the board featuring Bill Sage, Julia Garner, Ambyr Childers, Michael Parks, and Kelly McGillis. Without question, Bill Sage steals the show here. He’s intimidating, ruthless, and his emotional spectrum ranges from stoic to uncontrollable grief. One of the best performances in a horror flick I’ve ever seen, he’s just an absolute beast. Ambyr Childers gives the performance of her young career, something to be truly proud of as a calling card. Apart from Sage, Childers is the striking scene stealer. Julia Garner does a superlative job in her supporting role. The young actress, who’s starred in a couple of indie-hits and looks to have some mainstream success in the near future, easily gives the most vulnerable, emotional compromised performance.

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Amazingly performed, atmospheric, and deliciously satisfying, “We Are What We Are” is a visual feast (no pun intended).

We Are What We Are: 8.5 out of 10.