We Are What We Are (Jim Mickle, 2013)
Less than a minute into Jim Mickle’s reimagining—one cannot call it a remake with a straight face—of Jorge Grau’s fine 2010 film Somos lo que Hay, he has already made it plain to the viewer who has seen the previous film that We Are What We Are is a different movie indeed. The two movies start with the same event; the death of the head of a family. While that death is never explained in the 2010 film (the family gets a visit from the coroner about two-thirds of the way through this version with a cause of death, not that it matters), the two of them are virtually identical in the method in which each family member dies; it starts with a nosebleed, descends quickly into convulsions, and within seconds that person has shuffled off this mortal coil. It is the circumstances surrounding the two deaths that make all the difference. When Papa does in the 2010 film, he is in a large city. He is surrounded by people, yet he is utterly alone and anonymous. (One of the movie’s finest, funniest, blackest scenes is the revelation of what happens to him after his death, which takes place in the following minute or so.) In the 2013 film, Emma Parker (Evil Dead II‘s Kassie DePaiva) is trying to beat a coming storm in a small backwoods town somewhere in Appalachia, frantically grabbing groceries, but still managing to have time to have a conversation with the clerk at the general store. (Yes, this town is small enough to still have a general store.) In the space of a couple of minutes, Jim Mickle has changed the sex of the dying parent and the type of city in which the family lives. This should be creating a string of “what if?”s in the head of any viewer who has seen the original movie. It is to Jim Mickle (Mulberry St.)’s credit that instead of doing this and then trying to shoehorn the rest of the movie into remake territory, he gives us, essentially, an entirely new film based on those “what if?”s. And it is a good one indeed, Jim Mickle’s best film to date.
After Emma’s death, her husband Frank (Mysterious Skin‘s Bill Sage), is distraught enough that his daughters, Iris (The Master‘s Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Martha Marcy May Marlene‘s Julia Garner), have to step up and take charge. Well, that’s the way it looks at first, but here’s where those amazing what-ifs start cascading; Emma and her family, it seems, are from a long line that stems from an entirely matriarchal culture, and so Frank is stuck playing second fiddle and, occasionally, enforcer. This is especially the case when the girls’ younger brother Rory (Every Secret Thing‘s Jack Gore in his screen debut) starts to get close to Marge (Top Gun‘s Kelly McGillis), their nearest neighbor, and the friendship between the two threatens to expose the Parkers’ long-held secrets.
Perhaps the biggest change to the original film is when those secrets are revealed. They become obvious in the original film not long after the two children (sons in that one) are forced to take over the family; here, they are held back longer, turned into a Big Reveal(TM). This could be because I’ve seen the original and am a fan of it, but I didn’t think the skeletons in the family’s closet were really as big a deal as that would lead one to think; in many ways, that seems to me the weakest link in this otherwise very good film. I hesitate to say that this is the best way to remake a movie, but it is certainly a far sight better than the vast majority of remakes that have been coming out of Hollywood for the past ten or so years. Imaginations ran wild when Mickle and longtime partner in crime Nick Damici were putting this script together, and most everything falls into place pretty nicely; those pieces that had to be forced or shimmed are minor, really, and We Are What We Are is a worthy descendant of the original film that manages to blaze its own trail successfully. *** ½