Director Jim Mickle first fired up a signal flare among horror fans with 2006’s Mulberry Street, a no-budget melding of Cassavetes-style realism and giant mutant rat men. Stake Land, Mickle’s next collaboration with co-writer/actor Nick Damici, further upped the ante, turning two of the genre’s moldiest tropes—the apocalypse and vampires—into something both ingenious and oddly lyrical. Comparisons to the likes of John Carpenter were premature, but not all that laughable, either.
We Are What We Are, Mickle and Damici’s latest project, fulfills that early promise, and then some. Loosely adapting a 2010 Mexican film, it migrates between creepy Southern gothic and Grand Guignol with a surprising amount of emotional heat.
Beginning with an unnerving sequence involving a flash flood, the story follows the Parkers, an isolated Catskills clan left adrift after a recent loss, with the family’s two teenaged daughters (Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner) particularly devastated. As the town doctor (Michael Parks) begins looking into some of their more peculiar habits, the family patriarch (Bill Sage) single-mindedly persists on honoring the ancestral tradition known as Lamb Day. “Heh, heh, heh,” as The Cryptkeeper used to say.
Mickle clearly knows his backwoods horror, and doles out the requisite creaks, fiddles and scripture passages with a steady hand. Aided by Ryan Samuel’s gorgeously old-timey cinematography, the film generates one hell of a slow burn before culminating in a final sequence that may put even jaded gorehounds off their popcorn.
Impressively grody as those last few minutes get, though, the film wouldn’t sting nearly as much without the quieter moments, in which the characters movingly rail against their manifest destinies; the more you think about that ungainly gobstopper of a title, the more it works. At a time when the horror genre has largely devolved into a pile of self-referential CGI spatter, this is an unfiltered shot of the real stuff.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE
Bill Sage, Michael Parks, Ambyr Childers