We Are What We Are (Somos Lo Que Hay)

19 Nov

Director: Jorge Michel Grau (2010)

The social satire is a genre that is all too often populated by horror films. Or maybe that should the other way around, horror is too often populated by social satire… Either way, it is nigh on impossible to think of a horror film that does not in some way reflect social fears, offering a commentary on the state of our society, corruption, immorality by giving such features of human society an inhuman face. For me, where we find the true horror is when a director is unafraid to show these inhuman acts being committed with a human face.

The buzz around We Are What We Are was primarily focused on its categorisation as a Mexican cannibal film. When I think of cannibal films my memory flashes back to those 80s B-movies my 14 year old self used to pretend I liked where big breasted blondes would descend into hysteria upon their discovery that, in addition to acrobatic and unnecessary lovemaking positions, their gentleman friend was also partial to lady flesh on his plate as well as on his face. Please forgive the graphic description, and while we’re at it, please forgive my temporary insanity for going out with this certain gent. So it’s either sexy naked cannibals or some kind of colonial commentary of jungle dwelling natives complete with bones in their hair and a fresh stock of tourists simmering in a huge cauldron… Cast both these clichés aside when you enter into Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are.

Continuing the tradition of the father who we briefly meet vomiting black bile on a shopping mall floor, before being quickly disposed of by an all too quick off the mark janitorial team, the children in this poor Mexican family are left to provide. Only we aren’t talking helping mum carry the shopping bags home… rather kidnapping and killing humans, with a certain flavour favouring for prostitutes. The film’s overriding, and I guess at times overcooked (cue food related analogies), message is the psychological dysfunction of the individual within a corrupt society and perhaps more specifically, the disintegration or threat to the family to remain nuclear and ‘normal’ under such pressures. Clearly this family aren’t coping well.

Nothing is ever explained why the father is a cannibal or why, once he is dead, the family don’t take the opportunity to stop chowing down on the prostitutes, all we know if that the ritual must be upheld at the risk of undetermined consequences. Avoiding gory scenes, for the most part, we never actually see flesh torn…aside from a few nibbles here and there. Instead the cannibalism is subdued, dare I say it, almost humanised, as if it is as normal and necessary for them to eat human flesh as it is for us to nip out to Tesco for a roast chicken on a Sunday. The nervy atmosphere and apprehension that suffocates the audience as the kids seek to find some meat for the table is syncopated with the steady ticking of the clock throughout the film. What is ticking away – time running out before dinner? The sound of their vicitm’s life running out? Before they get caught?  Punctuating what is essentially a rather silent film soundtrack wise, the audience is left on the edge of their seats, waiting for the noise, a scream, a chime of the house – just something to end the at times deafening silence in the film.

But there is never a noise. Never a scream. Only a false climax in the police face off in the film’s final moments. We know too well this is not the end. It would be too easy, too inconclusive. Thankfully the final scene reaffirms our faith in Grau’s mastery of eerie terror. Also helped by that lasting image of the effortlessly terrifying Paulina Gaitan’s lip licking smile….

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