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Film Review: We Are What We Are (Spoilers)

Posted on Thursday, November 18, 2010 in culture, films

You’d have thought a film about cannibals would be gripping right? Wrong. From its promotion I was expecting a Mexican ‘Let the Right One In’, but where the Swedish vampire classic had a very clear vision and rock solid writing, this is just a mess. ‘Somos Lo Que Hay’ fails on character development, a consistent plotline, engaging acting, competent direction, you name it – very little of what writer/director Jorge Michel Grau offers is believable, and given the opportunities available in its premise it’s almost unforgiveable. I’m getting ahead of myself though.

A dirt poor family’s patriarch freaks out and dies at the mall. His batshit crazy family finds out, after brothers Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro) & Julian (Alan Chávez) are kicked out of their market stall for being, well, violent, and decides extreme measures are needed in order to keep eating with no income. So they kill a local prostitute and try to kill Alfredo’s first gay lover, before things get messy and the inept local detectives (not so) hot on their trail unexpectedly catch up with them. Will they get a chance to eat their prey before the law stops them dead?

With a sharp directorial eye this could have been a deeply uncomfortable horror film with a biting (ahem) social commentary; there’s even a rich seam of dark humour available. But Grau sidesteps these options in favour of irritating ambiguity – Alfredo questions his sexuality and appears to find a first love, but ultimately craves his insane mother’s approval more than his own future. Mother Carmen Beato wants to protect her kids from unbelievable poverty and social exclusion, but is only able to show it by beating people over the head with a shovel. Sister Sabina (Paulina Gaitan) manipulates brother Julian with semi-incestuous advances, but to no clear end, and then just looks menacing in the film’s pointless finale, having seemingly manipulated her siblings into killing one another. Black comedy or woefully badly thought out?

The opportunities for satire and black comedy are endless, and it does seem as though Grau has something to say – bereft of any morality whatsoever, the family justifies its killing spree with a quasi-religious ritual, but even then this is never adequately explained (or completed) and their reasons for descending into cannibalism aren’t remotely clear. Is this a ham fisted attempt at social commentary on the social exclusion of absolute poverty? Well it may have had an impact if the characters didn’t spend most of their time just looking longingly at nothing. The refusal to romanticise any of them is a refreshing departure from the Hollywood norm – there really isn’t anything else like this out there right now – but the problem is none of them is ultimately very interesting. Only Francisco Barreiro’s Alfredo comes close but Grau’s apparent conclusion that his embracing of his sexual orientation is merely a means to find new *ahem* meat falls flat and switched what little interest I had off completely. As it stands, it would need to be remade with a  thoughtfully tuned script and insightful direction for me to want to revisit.



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