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Review: We Are What We Are

Opening night, Thursday, October 17 Toronto After Dark 2013 starts off with a movie getting a lot of buzz and I'm here to tell you that you missed out if you weren't there. What a start to the festival! We Are What We Are is quite the auspicious start; even though I was less impressed with the film itself, I could see what the programmers for TAD were thinking. It really set a mood for the rest of the festival. Mystery, dour characters, resolutions that you don't quite expect and, of course, horror. Oh, the horror. The horror!

Seeing the trailer or reading a synopsis of We Are What We Are already tells you too much. Be warned this review will have spoilers towards the end; I just don't know how else to say everything about the film. It starts with the death of a woman who we quickly discover is the mother of a family of three. We don't know quite what caused her death, aside from her head getting smashed and her subsequent drowning, but there's something more to it. We know it's an accident somehow, or that there's more to it than mommy dearest just being a little tired. This leads to the introduction of Bill Sage playing the father, Frank Parker. Boy, if there's a reason to see this movie, it's Sage's performance. Just wow. Anyways, Frank is not the only one to have lost someone in the small town they live in. Doc Barrow, the local doctor played by the always amazing Michael Parks, also lost his daughter a few years back. Turns out he's suspicious of the many disappearances around the area. One thing that immediately made me think all the happenings going on were all a little too contrived was Doc Barrow being the one to find a bone wash up in his backyard after a recent storm -- a bone that appears to be human. At least, I got the feeling everything was a bit too telegraphed -- my major complaint about the film. It all seemed a bit too obvious. Getting back home to the Parker household, we meet Iris, Rose and Rory who all have to listen to dad and his commands about getting the funeral for mom out of the way ASAP. Afterall, they're fasting in preparation for a feast. The most grisly of feasts. Iris, being the oldest female, must prepare. Rory is too young to help, but hey, as religion typically goes, patriarchy rules and the ladies do as they're told.

There's just one problem with all this: Iris and Rose seem to be discontent with following daddy's rules. They'd love to know what happened to mother Parks, but it's not something dad will ever acquiesce to. Same to Doc Barrow; he has to let it go, not that he will. An air of desperation follows Doc around. We know he lost his daughter and we all know why, but can he put the pieces together? What caused mother Parks demise? Why is Frank so secretive? Why is it that Iris and Rose fear their father? The whole thing reminds me of another religious-centric flick from a few years back (and done much better IMHO), Frailty. The struggle between the religious right, family, and the mystery of the story was done so much better already. That's without mentioning that We Are What We Are is a remake itself, and from what I've been told the original was better. This does, however, lead to one surprising ending that I definitely did not expect. Alright, I was thinking I'd be a lot more spoilery, but what's the point? Go see the film. It's good, it's just not as good as it could have been had it not all been quite so obvious. The ending does not make up for the rest. It's plodding, obvious, and could have used some rewrites.

We Are What We Are is billed as art-house horror. I've seen plenty of horror that could be categorized as such by those snootier than me, but this definitely does not fit into that group. There were some great actors, a fantastic idea and some great atmosphere, but ultimately it fell flat. There was no mystery. There were dour characters and the end was one hell of a surprise, but it just didn't win me over. Luckily there were plenty of fun movies to see at Toronto After Dark this year. Keep an eye out for those reviews. There's a lot worth seeing from this year's festival.


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