Screen, World

We are what we are : When horror replaces guts with brains

The first feature film by the Mexican Jorge Michel Grau is a departure from the canon of horror films. It tells a story in which the blood on the screen is the least chilling part.

Noel Hernández

The plot sees a cannibalistic family hunt for humans. Nothing new there, at least not for a horror film. Through time, horror flicks portraying murderous families ranging from, say, ‘The Texas Chain Massacre’‘ (Tobe Hopper, 1974) to ‘The Last House on the Left’ (Dennis Iliadis, 2009) are arguably defined by scripts involving little imagination.

Such films and spin-offs tread the same ground repeatedly and reproduce the same stories in the same settings to nauseating extremes. Joerge Michel Grau’s debut film, on the other hand gets off the same subject and only adopts the genre’s commonalities on a couple of occasions. (Namely at the end of the film when it loses momentum).

‘We Are What We ‘Are is along the lines of ‘Let the Right One In’, to name another uncharacteristic modern smash horror film.

It has the hypnotic and dreamy feeling of the Swedish hit, and although it doesn’t quite live up to its wholeness and poetics, it doesn’t prove to be that claustrophobic either. The technical use of the camera emphasises the inferred importance of the characters, by only focusing on the character portrayed in that moment, and as such achieves mirrored situations which at first seemed abstract.

Grau’s film gets it just right by introducing the social commentary. And it doesn’t do it a roundabout or obscured way, but directly and without any sidestepping.

There are incompetent and corrupt policemen who are incapable of solving the murders of women (even though it is based in Mexico City, it’s Ciudad Juárez which springs to mind).  It also bares the class divide, the need to remove the undesirable social outcasts (as the first scene literally shows), so that they don’t contaminate the wholesome existence of the wealthy minorities.

And it moves from the society to the family, the core of immorality as ‘We Are What We Are’ suggests. We see all sorts in the family unit, from power struggles, hypocrisy and double standards to alleged incestuous relationships.

Obviously not everything is new and original in this film. Like a talented new director, Grau knew to pay tribute to his influences. That’s how his film opens by hinting at the work of George A. Romero of Drawn of the Dead. (Or maybe the man wandering around the shopping mall at the beginning isn’t a zombie).

The woman singing the bolero in the train who leaves a secret message is pure David Lynch. There are even pictorial references like Edward Hopper in the photograph of the desolate night landscape of motorways and deserted petrol stations.

(Translated by Selma Seferovic –

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