We Are What We Are

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am


We Are What We Are
Francisco Barreiro, Carmen Beato, Miriam Balderas, Alan Chavez
Director: Jorge Michel Grau

'A cannibal gore-fest!' screams the review-quote-cum-spoiler on the DVD of Mexican filmmaker Jorge Michel Grau's directorial debut. But is We Are What We Are what its basic premise suggests it is - a grisly horror film about people who prey on other people? Not quite, as Grau's film is much more - cannibalism only serving as a metaphor about the dysfunctional, dog-eat-dog ethos that defines personal relationships in modern society, and that men and women are to be consumed and spat out.

The film begins with a gaunt, middle-aged man stumbling his way through a well-appointed shopping mall: writhing with pain, he's shooed away from shop windows and cleared off clinically when he finally drops dead in the middle of an aisle. It's a scene that is as unsettling as the violence and bloodletting that follows - given that the man is the father of a family of human-eaters.

His death leads to two consequences: his widow and three teenaged children must go 'hunting' to fend for themselves, while two self-interested detectives begin to look into the case when an autopsy of the man's body reveals remains of his horrible meals.

Their paths will eventually cross, but We Are What We Are doesn't cut to the chase. In fact, the chase could be seen as an afterthought here: what's most riveting about Grau's film is his portrayal of the psychological schisms building up between and within the members of the cannibalistic family.

With the father gone, a power struggle erupts within the clan, pitting the tyrannical and mentally unstable mother against her scheming daughter, and her brute of a youngest son; but it's the eldest, the mousey, emotionally suppressed Alfredo, who bears the brunt, as he struggles with being forced into becoming the leader while battling his inner demons.

Mexico City is seen here as a centre of chaos, complete with indifferent coroners, incompetent police officers, and crime and corruption everywhere. We Are What We Are is a damning social critique, with the cannibals just one sociopathic group among others. At one point the coroner says he's hardly surprised by the half-eaten bodies he works on all the time - they're the cast-offs from rats, but of 'the two-legged kind'. A scary indictment which adds to the horrific nature of Grau's film.

Extras: none.