We Are What We Are

Year: 2013
Production Co: Belladonna Productions
Director: Jim Mickle
Producer: Jim Mickle
Writer: Jim Mickle
Cast: Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Bill Sage, Michael Parks, Kelly McGillis

Has any institution given us a richer vein of creepy villains than religion? Unlike big business or the military, you know religious nutjobs in movies are that much scarier because they have such strength of conviction in hurting, torturing or killing you. And like the purest kind of evil, redneck father Frank Parker (Bill Sage) is sure what he does is thanks to love and worship.

What Frank does with his family isn't made explicit until well into the movie, but there are enough creepy nods to what's going on to give you as much of a sense of unease as the wintry, rainy, small mountain town landscape where he lives with his teenage daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) and pre-teen son Rory (Jack Gore).

The film opens with the death of the Parker family's wife and mother. Shambling like a zombie around the county store, the hapless woman goes outside to stand in the rain and promptly keels over, cracking her skull on a concrete drain and dying from her injury.

Amidst dealing with their mother's death and their bear-like father's grief, a palpable sense of dread surrounds the girls. The dark family ritual their parents took care of will now fall to them, and it means more than laying the table and pinning out the washing. It's got to do with the disappearances that have taken place around town for years (the latest of which happens soon after the funeral) and the locked room deep in the Sage family basement.

And all the while, the local mortician and doctor Doc Barrow (Michael Parks) starts to suspect something - especially when it seems it might provide a clue to his own daughters' disappearance years before.

The setting and landscape are evocative with the downpours, darkness and muted colours promising a funhouse of stark horrors. Thankfully writer/director Jim Mickle doesn't fall too in love with his mood and We Are What We Are certainly has a plot, even if it gets a little contrived and pulpy.

With the help of a reluctant deputy sheriff (holding a torch for Iris that will earn him a shocking fate), Doc Barrow turns detective to move the plot along while he unravels the Sage family secret.

It's not perfect – Frank's final fate is quite ridiculous, but both young actresses do a good job of portraying the haunted existence they want to escape but daren't try to leave, with terrible weather and a banquet you won't forget in a hurry doing the rest.

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