SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2013
By Don Simpson | January 29, 2013
Director: Jim Mickle
Writers: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici
Starring: Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Bill Sage, Kelly McGillis, Michael Parks, Wyatt Russell, Nick Damici, Vonia Arslanian, Jack Gore, Joel Nagle
Early on in writer-director Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are, Emma Parker (Kassie Depaiva) unexpectedly dies while out running errands during a horrendous storm. This leaves her husband Frank (Bill Sage) alone to raise their three children, Iris (Ambyr Childers), Rose (Julia Garner) and Rory (Jack Gore).
While we are not quite sure of the cause of Emma’s death, it seems as though the Parker clan are in the midst of a spiritual fasting. It soon becomes apparent, however, that they are just waiting for the ingredients of their special family stew to be properly prepared for cooking. This is where Iris and Rose come in — with their mother dead, they must step up and begin to prepare the meals for their family.
We Are What We Are quietly observes the long-standing family traditions of the Parker clan which are all diligently documented in a long-dead ancestor’s journal. Frank devotes his life to this journal, as if it is his family’s bible. He has essentially developed his family into a ritualistic cult that is so stuck in the past, that they seem as though they have been left behind from another time and place. They sit around listening to old folk ballads; before meals, they dress up in historical garb and faithfully say grace. Their life is about worshiping the past and avoiding the present. Like most fundamentalists and cultists, the Parker family is so entrenched in their beliefs that they have become blinded from recognizing the reality of their situation.
In this backwoods, upstate New York community, the eccentricities and reclusiveness of the Parker family is really not all that strange. That is until Doc Barrow (Michael Parks) begins to study Emma’s autopsy; suddenly, the rash of missing persons reports begin to make sense, as do the human bones that are unearthed by the torrential rains.
We Are What We Are visually nails the mood and tone of the story, but for the most part the plot is just plain silly. Bill Sage’s performance as the manipulative patriarch is a way too outlandish to be taken seriously and the attempt to pair up Deputy Anders (Wyatt Russell) with Iris seems much too forced. That said, Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner are remarkable as the Parker daughters. I, for one, am utterly enamored by Garner’s on-screen presence; I suspect that girl has one hell of a cinematic future ahead of her.