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A seemingly wholesome and benevolent family, the Parkers have always kept to themselves, and for good reason. Behind closed doors, patriarch Frank rules his family with a rigorous fervor, determined to keep his ancestral customs intact at any cost. As a torrential rainstorm moves into the area, tragedy strikes and his daughters Iris and Rose are forced to assume responsibilities that extend beyond those of a typical family. As the unrelenting downpour continues to flood their small town, the local authorities begin to uncover clues that bring them closer to the secret that the Parkers have held closely for so many years. Written by
A reclusive family prepares for its unique yearly tradition during a torrential rainstorm in We Are What We Are, a horror thriller that provokes neither horror nor thrilled reaction. The movie is paced a little bit too deliberately, and moments that should frighten with their suddenness are telegraphed well ahead of time by way of lingering, loving tracking shots. It's a movie without a message and with a minor- league plot, where solid performances are betrayed by an ungratifying ending and unrealistic (and unexplained) character development.
I wanted so badly to like this movie. It's a horror film, part of a genre that appeals mostly to a particular set of people. Most people don't seem to just sort of tolerate horror movies; they're usually rabid fans or equally opinionated detractors. In any event, the intrigue of what a quiet, religious family in the middle of the woods might be up to attracted me to the film. Even after I discovered their secret (which may be common knowledge by now, but I won't spoil it), I was curious to know more - the family's folklore and what would happen to them by the end of the movie.
The Parker family is led by Frank (Bill Sage), a heavily bearded man of few words, the kind of guy who brooks no disobedience within his family. Very early in the movie, we meet Emma (Kassie DePaiva), Frank's wife, as she visits a local store for some last-minute items before the storm hits. It's soon evident that Mrs. Parker isn't quite right, and she quickly passes. This means that her responsibilities regarding the family's annual Lamb's Day are inherited by the eldest daughter, Iris (Ambyr Childs). Suddenly, Iris and her 14-year-old sister Rose (Julia Garner) are more involved than they have in the past, thus leading to internal doubts while they protect their little brother Rory (Jack Gore).
Part of the suspense is supposed to involve what actually occurs on Lamb's Day. After Emma dies, a beloved book of hers is passed down to Iris, who learns it's been in the family since the 1700s. But most of what Iris reads is not news to her, and after we've heard just a little bit we can quickly grasp the situation. At this point, Iris, Rose, and Rory are presented as wholly sympathetic, unable to disobey their father but still complicit in his and their own actions.
Meanwhile, as the store abates, the local doctor (Michael Parks) makes a discovery in a creek behind his house that begins to lead him toward the Parkers. Soon, law enforcement in the person of Deputy Anders (Wyatt Russell), is involved as well. We know what they've found, and we're able to seamlessly connect the find to what the Parker clan has been up to, so the suspense on that front is neutralized. The only remaining question is whether Frank Parker - and his kids - will emerge unscathed.
Suspenseful movies, when done right, can expertly manipulate one's sense of dread. A tracking shot as a person approaches a closed door, then reaches for the handle; that can be very spine tingling. But similar shots in this movie took so long to develop that it quickly became obvious what was going to happen next, sort of the opposite of what a director would want his audience to feel.
When we do arrive at the concluding scenes of the film, we're met with an ending that's so over the top that it jumps over the line of sanity into full-blown ludicrousness. It just doesn't make sense for some characters to behave one way for 99% of the film and then make a 180- degree turn in the waning moments. This makes for an ending that's not only offbeat and unpredictable (which would be good) but also implausible, irrational, and unintentionally hilarious. In fact, should you make it to the end, I dare you to not laugh at what's supposed to be scary, gross stuff.
The cast itself is very good, particularly Garner, Childs, and Parks; Kelly McGillis is also onboard as a suspecting neighbor and is fine. The only incongruent acting comes from Gore as the young Rory; in one particular scene, he's obviously supposed to be terrified but instead just looks really mad.
We Are What We Are is a movie without a point, with few new wrinkles to a specific subgenre, weighted down by slow-motion pacing and a mostly uneventful plot that culminates in an unlikely, unappealing ending.
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