Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Women in Horror: We Are What We Are (2013)

* Spoilers *

The Parkers live in a small, rural town and have always kept to themselves. Their neighbors find them a bit odd, but good, wholesome people with Christian values. Frank, the patriarch of the family, rules with an iron fist, forcing the family to keep with their ancestral traditions at all cost. The mother has died recently, leaving the two oldest girls Rose and Iris to assume her responsibilities in the family and these traditions. The time for the gruesome ritual is upon them and unfortunately coincides with the worst storm they've seen in years. Due to the torrential downpour, clues of their previous rituals are being uncovered by local police and it seems only a matter of time until the family and their unorthodox practices will be discovered.

The Parker family appears to be wholesome, good, and pious, but their family dynamic and cannibalistic religious practices are warped and bizarre. The film boils down to the old trying to unsuccessfully stifle and combat the young. Frank Parker is the driving force of their family. Although physically imposing, he is actually weakened by a prion disease contracted from his highly regarded ritual of eating human flesh and is prone to tremors and mental deterioration. He forces his own beliefs and sensibilities onto his children, which are an amalgamation of his ancestor's traditions and Christianity. In the 1700s, their ancestors were stuck in a cave and subsisted on human flesh to survive. Frank is somehow convinced that their family will die out if they don't continue this bizarre tradition exactly how it was done in the past, so they kill and eat one young women a year. Frank represents an old order literally consuming and basically enslaving the unwilling new order, mostly comprised of young women.

Rose and Iris are Frank's teenage daughters who are obviously less than enthused about continuing Frank's traditions, but reluctantly follow his leadership. They appear much younger than they are because of the old fashioned, very modest clothes they are forced to wear. Iris also has her hair styled in severe braids to represent Frank's control over them. When they have to kill, gut, and prepare a young woman for their meal, they express disgust, reluctance, and vow to figure out a way out of it for next year. Iris is the older of the two and seems to resign herself unhappily to assume her mother's role in the home and in the ritual. She comports herself as largely silent and stoic, almost zombie-like. When a young deputy expresses interest in her, she quickly shuts him down. Iris wants more out of life and already rejects the insane teachings and authority of her father, but sees no way out of it.

Then the young conflict with the old until one is overthrown. Iris' rebellion starts by having sex with the young deputy who she previously rejected. This act is a natural expression of sexuality and appropriate for her age. Her father finds them mid-coitus and slaughters the man while he's on top of her in an effort to bury her burgeoning womanhood and keep her complacent and childlike. Rose's rebellion is represented by her hair. After she rejects the tradition and plans to leave, she stops braiding her hair, leaving it wavy and free. This changes her appearance drastically and gives her more womanly, modern look. Rose and Iris' final rebellion is in their own version of the ritual. Their father tries to kill them and commit suicide when it's obvious that others know their secret. To protect themselves and their little brother, Iris and Rose attack their father using only their teeth and nails and devour his flesh. In stark contrast to their tradition ritual, they attack and eat with savage fervor, acting on instincts rather than thought. Eating their father is getting rid of the diseased old ways and restoring the natural order, giving themselves the opportunity to move forward and have their own lives. Afterwards, they are free and wear modern clothing while they look to build a new life somewhere else. Iris takes the book with their traditions because it's undeniably part of them, but no to continue honoring them.

We Are What We Are is a well done horror film with a lot going on under the surface. It goes a different direction than one would expect of a cannibal film. The performances are excellent, especially of Ambyr Childers and Julie Garner as Iris and Rose. I like the pacing of the film and how it methodically tells the story without rushing. The ominous atmosphere of the stormy small town in built and maintained. This film is surprisingly a remake from a 2010 film of the same name set in Mexico. The two films seem to have the same general story line, but not much else in common. This is the example of the rare remake that establishes itself separate from the original and proves to be a good story with excellent execution.

My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins


Unknown said...

I just couldn't bring myself to sympathize with Iris after she bashed that women's brains in with a hammer. I get that she grew up in an extremely repressive and psychologically damaging household but that could be said for everyone in her family going back generations. All the killers in her family were raised that way and it doesn't excuse the fact that they became serial killers. I didn't like that it took seeing a human that she liked (the deputy) killed and eaten for her to finally break free. That seeing that terrified woman in chains fighting desperately for her life wasn't enough to stop her from killing and eating her.

Having the mother die and it being the father that pressures the girls (the son was mostly spared because of his age) into continuing their sadistic ways definitely made it clear it was meant to be seen at least partly as a patriarchal allegory. But the story could've just as easily been about a mother teaching her daughters to do that or a father teaching his sons (it would've seemed more misogynist), or a mother teaching her sons.

titania86 said...

Niala: I read it as unwillingly perpetuating the patriarchal traditions, so I still had sympathy for Iris. It was a part of the process of seeing how truly horrific the ritual was and then trying to embrace her womanhood, which was then squashed by her father.

The original story had the father dying and then the mother perpetuating the cannibalistic ritual. I do think it changes the meaning if it's the mother or the father.