In my quest and obsession for strange films, I came across We Are What We Are, from 2013 and directed by Jim Mickle.
With an IMDB rating of 5.8(??????????!!!) and unfamiliar with Mickle’s work, I had to indulge.
We Are What We Are tells the story a reclusive family who follow ancient customs. With no relationships outside the house, Frank Parker – the patriarch rules the family home with a severe iron fist, believing that God has chosen them to live in the way they do. As the story unfolds, not only do they find their secret existence threatened but in forcing his daughters Iris and Rose to assume responsibilities beyond those of a typical family Frank soon exposes himself to a rebellion that has been brewing below the surface for years.
The narrative unravels like when reading a book – slow and constant (which for me is not a bad thing). The opening scenes are mysterious and urgent – enhanced by the sharp and rapid editing which leaves the viewer feeling ignorant of what is actually going on. Who is this woman? What is happening to her? Where is she going? The film refuses to answer any of these questions at this moment in time, keeping me gripped long enough to reel me in to the story.
When Frank Parker tells his children: “One day I’ll teach you how to not be afraid of the dark”
it seems extremely handy advice because the house is dark even in daylight, creating a feeling that it possesses its own frame of time where, coupled with the mise en scene and the family customs, Mickle creates a horrifying paradox. The tension inside the house is unbearable from the beginning of the film – we are on tentahooks as the children whisper around the house within the shadows, frightened that their father will hear them. The secrets they are burdened to carry as well as their overbearing father are a constant shadow of oppression for these young girls – even in the most intimate of moments (one scene in particular involving the oldest sister Iris, will have you looking away and yet simultaneously watching the screen!)
With birds eye view shots of the siblings clinging onto each other we are also made to feel like we’re intruding on private moments.
The scenes unfold like the turning pages of a book and just like the youngest of the family, son Rory – who up until some horrifying scenes in the basement has been kept innocent of his family’s secrets – we can never go back to the ignorance and innocence we once had. Iris tells her love interest: “I’m not pretty… Not inside” because her responsibilities as the new matriarch have left her damaged with copious amounts of blood on her hands. Her new forced position also threatens to tear apart the sibling relationship as Iris takes on her responsibilities to the dismay of her younger sister.
As the narrative unfolds, it soon becomes apparent that the monsters aren’t actually in the basement, nor in fact are they outside of the house… they’re in the house itself.
The tension steadily builds to bursting until – like the dam – Frank can no longer hold the control he’s had for so many years.
The finale of the film is spectacular and definitely not a conclusion I saw coming! Some of Frank’s final words are: “Let there be light”: of course a Biblical quote however also Frank’s recognition that his sins have come to light and his secrets are unraveling before his eyes to reveal shocking revelations. However, in this light he does not see coming the fact that his children will betray him with the very sins he taught them – in the perfect plot twist.
“It was me who made her bad” are some of the lyrics of the song played in finale scene, which to me is the perfect admission to this tragic story of three children corrupted by the sins of their father, making them what they are.