Part drama, part horror, Jorge Michel Grau’s film is macabre, but lacks a feeling of terror. We Are What We Are is more effective in its attempts at gritty realism than it is when trying to generate apprehension.
When their father passes away, it is up to Alfredo and his two siblings to look after the family and continue its rituals. This includes hunting for meat. In the densely populated city, the family are looking for the human, rather than the animal, kind of flesh…
Although they occupy much of the screen time, little is revealed about the family. This works to create a sense of mystery surrounding these characters. Nevertheless, they are never fully engaging without any real exposition. Although the family dynamics are made clear, the history of the family, and the specific reason of the cannibalism are never identified. None of the characters, therefore, are easily related to; in their separation from normal society it is difficult to empathise with them.
We Are What We Are functions successfully as social commentary more than anything else. The film’s focus on vice and corruption suggests a despair with this kind of activity in Mexico City. There is an implication throughout of an indifference to violence and crime, unless there is a personal benefit from becoming involved. The police officers are only interested in solving the case when they believe it will benefit their careers. Interestingly, the only suggestion of camaraderie in the film comes in the form of the prostitutes, who seem genuinely concerned in looking out for one another.
The narrative follows the two parallel strands of the family coping for the immediate future without their patriarch, and the police attempting to solve the cannibalism case. Pace starts to build only in the final third, coinciding with an acceleration in violence. For a film concerned with cannibalism, it is perhaps surprising that violence and gore is only depicted in detail in the final part of the film. With a subject matter such as this, the film could have been far more graphic.
Francisco Barriero offers a subtle performance as Alfredo, an unlikely character thrust into a position of leadership. Carmen Beato injects menace and aggression into the film with her portrayal of Patricia, the mother of the family. Her fiery outbursts appear surprising in contrast to her earlier dismay.
Grau’s directorial debut is an interesting watch, but could have been more captivating. Like many horror films, We Are What We Are attempts to offer social commentary through a macabre guise. This is effective, but a little more exposition and heightening the sense of trepidation would have made for a more entertaining film.