Sundance Review: We Are What We Are


I can’t even pretend to imagine what I’d do or how I’d feel if my father was a serial killer. We Are What We Are does it for me, and though I may not like what I see, the film is compelling because of it.

We Are What We Are
Director: Jim Mickle
Rating: NR
Country: USA
Release Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival)

A mother walking home from the butcher suddenly has a spasm, hits her head, and drowns in a pool of water, leaving behind two daughters, a young boy, and a husband. He’s very fond of doing his own thing in the shed. We Are What We Are isn’t exactly full of cheer, but it has a tranquil pace and tone that makes the horrific moments go down easier than they should. I felt almost complacent in the acts of violence on display, accepting this murderous man as he accepts himself. I am what I am: a morally bent movie-goer.

The two teenage daughters, Iris and Rose, are mature beyond their years. Rose has the blank stare of a fish, without soul or in search of one. Older sister Iris looks like she wants to scream but can never find the opportunity. Rose is played by Julia Garner (Martha Marcy May Marlene) who gives the best performance of the film; who is a growing force to be reckoned with (see: Electrick Children); and who is also a sister of a (Facebook) friend — so there’s your disclaimer, dear reader. While I’m giving shout-outs — here’s a shout-out for her on-screen papa played by Bill Sage (who is not my Facebook friend nor would I ever want him to be [he creeps me the hell out.])

There isn’t a weak link in We Are What We Are but it’s not a very strong bond to begin with, or more apropo, a sausage chain. Once I knew the nature of the family, the way the story would unfold became fairly obvious. Things play out with much deft and tact from performers and director (Jim Mickle, Stake Land), but the end point is one of a different kind of complacency (the kind that goes, “Here come the credits.”)

We Are What We Are is a chilling tale that has the audacity to follow a serial killer without making him into a monster, unless he is committing monstrous acts. We hear about families like these in the news and often wonder how they come to be. Though the film doesn’t answer that question as well as Sleep Tight, it balances being a thriller and psychological study at the same time.