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We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Print E-mail
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Written by Ray Casta   
Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Poster Artwork for We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) on Severed Cinema

AKA: Somos lo que hay, Kan Kokusu, Mä oon mitä oon, Ne nous jugez pas, Nous sommes ce que nous sommes, Vi är vad vi är, Wir sind was wir sind

Directed by: Jorge Michel Grau
Written by: Jorge Michel Grau
Produced by: Nicolás Celis
Cinematography by: Santiago Sanchez
Music by: Enrico Chapela
Cast: Adrián Aguirre, Miriam Balderas, Francisco Barreiro, Carmen Beato, Alan Chávez, Juan Carlos Colombo
Year: 2010
Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish
Color: Color
Runtime: 1 h 29 min

Official Website: We Are What We Are UK

"It's shocking how many people eat each other in this city," says a mortician early in the film.  Dubbed as the very "first" Mexican cannibal horror drama, first-time director Jorge Michel Grau's "We Are What We Are" (originally titled "Somos lo que hay") depicts the dog-eat-dog society of Mexico City, in which cannibalism is a family's only way of survival.  The film is aptly titled in the sense it explains the family's voracious taste for blood.  Its viewers simply don't need a deep back-story to "explain," the title of the film is sufficient enough: The characters are what they are, and that's that.  For most of the way, the film is focused solely on social commentary than characterization.  The characters come across more as pawns to drive its allegory and subtext forward.  The first two acts -- which resemble thought-provoking arthouse cinema -- make "We Are What We Are" much superior than its third act where the provocative material falters for more traditional horror.

Set in the slums of Mexico City, the film opens to an elderly man walking down a street.  Dishevelled and sickly, the man makes it to the outside of a shopping mall and falls to his death.  This justly sets the conflict of the film.  After his passing, his impoverished family are forced to fend for themselves, and hunt for their own food.  Headed by their grieving mother, the family consists of two brothers and their sister who must step up, and find their next meal quick.  Blending satire and truly black deadpan humor, the film wonderfully sets up the themes of family dysfunction and social turmoil.  "We Are What We Are" is a grim, macabre look at what happens when a family loses all hope and disintegrates before their very eyes.

The detrimental plight of the family associates itself with a police investigation of the father's death.  This is a regrettably weak aspect of "We Are What We Are," where police officials are lazy, crooked lowlifes.  They only care to investigate a case, if there is a monetary advantage involved for them, and Grau's portrayal of them is as clumsy as they are.  In Mexico, the policeman are supposedly very corrupt individuals.  So there is certainly a reason for their presence here, but it'd have helped if there was more delicacy, as opposed to a heavy-handed approach.  The work functions as a strong statement on Mexican poverty, and there are no heroes purposely.  Grau's screenplay doesn't feature a character you can particularly relate to, and I think there is a reason for this.  It makes his treatment of the family much more transgressive.

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

In many reviews, it has been stated that "We Are What We Are" is to the cannibal subgenre to what "Let The Right One In" is for vampire cinema and to a degree, it's true.  Both films are a fresh take on a common horror subgenre from a foreign country made for the arthouse crowd.  Besides this, there should not be further comparison.  In the case of Sweden's breakout tour de force, there were characters to care about.  In "We Are What We Are," the characters are far from as fascinating.  Most importantly, we do not have much empathy for them.  On the other hand, though, it should be noted the performances are strong.  The standout is the mother played by Carmen Beato, who has a shining moment, where she is flipping out on a group prostitutes after a body is dumped on a curb, "You tried to fuck my sons!?"  The sister, played by Carmen Beato, is just on point by conveying her quiet stare and her mask of sanity.

For the relatively small budget, "We Are What We Are" is well crafted, naturalistic, and arty.  One of the drawbacks is dim lighting, which is very poor -- not unlike the film's overall atmosphere.  Perhaps this effect was intentional because the cinematography works with shadows frequently here.  His use of sound is especially strong, using natural sounds of the city and the crunching effects to convey the dismemberment.  There is a receptive score by Enrico Chapela that works -- up until a certain point, like the film itself.  The first two acts suggest it would have ended on a more resounding note, but it somewhat loses its way with its neglectful, unsatisfying ending.  Despite the missteps of its third act, "We Are What We Are" is a positively solid, promising filmmaking debut by Jorge Michel Grau.

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We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

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We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

 RATING:
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