In his feature debut, Mexican writer/director Jorge Michel Grau is on the cusp of something great. The setup is solid: a family of middle-class cannibals attempts to carry on with their lives and make do in Mexico City after the untimely death of their patriarch and sole hunter. Mix in some infighting between the two teenage brothers, a teenager struggling to deal with possible homosexuality, a dash of awkward (and incestual) sexual tension, a mysterious “ritual” and a mother that’s just about bat-shit crazy, and it seems like there’s an opportunity for this film to jump feet-first into what I like to call the “horrorific” genre (films more obsessed with horrific things than actual horror – think of In My Skin, Dogtooth, Martyrs, and Trouble Every Day).

After the impressive and appropriately intriguing introduction, featuring a stumbling man dying in a shopping mall only to have his body trucked away and the ground scrubbed clean moments later, the acting from the remaining family members – three siblings (Adrian Aguirre, Francisco Barreiro, and Miriam Balderas) and their mother (Carmen Beato) – is solid and impressively restrained for such an outlandish plot. There’s not much downtime between establishing the characters and sending them out on a hunt for fresh flesh. Unfortunately, this is where things get a bit muddled. Grau has written in a duo of jaded, cynical policemen who make occasional appearances to remind us of the deeper messages hidden in this story – in Grau’s troubled and dirty Mexico City, people are always devouring each other (metaphorically), so the police aren’t impressed with a coven of cannibals that literally devour people. They choose not to investigate, opting instead to sit in their air-conditioned police cars pretending to go over files. Each time the story cuts to these police officers, the film’s progress is slowed.

Meanwhile, our anti-heroes are doing the heavy lifting, seeking out new meat in the form of homeless children, prostitutes and anyone else they can lure back to their home base. Reference is repeatedly made to a “ritual” that must be performed in order for the family to survive, but the group is surprisingly picky about who they choose (no prostitutes or homosexuals, please!). This allows for more violence and mayhem to ensue but leaves the audience with unanswered questions, especially since the great reveal that we’re prepared for never occurs.

We Are What We Are is alternately gripping and sluggish, but it never loses its edge until the coda. For a first film, it’s definitely impressive, but it also leaves Grau plenty of room to grow. If he builds on this cinematic style, his next film will be something to look out for. The main thing Grau needs to remember in the future is that sometimes an axe to the head is a political statement, but sometimes it’s just an axe to the head. Don’t work so hard on the former when the latter works just fine.

Zach’s Rating: B-
Perfect For: All those fans of uber-creepy films who want to be up on the latest bloody entry into the genre
Stay Away if: You’re looking for the tongue-in-cheek gore of The Human Centipede or the gut-wrenching family awkwardness of Dogtooth.

This one falls in between.To purchase We Are What We Are, visit Amazon

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