We Are What We Are
d. Jorge Michel Grau / 2010 / Mexico / 90 mins
Screen 1 @ Curzon Soho (London, UK)
On it’s UK release, We Are What We Are was met with near-universal positivity, but for some reason I just found it to be a bit tired, pretty cliched and very dull. Maybe it was the fact that I saw it first thing on a Sunday morning (and on an empty stomach), but to my mind, the dull thuds that punctuate the soundtrack are a fairly good articulation of the film as a whole. Sure it’s visually interesting, and the performances are fine, but it all just felt a little pointless.
For the UK advertising campaign, leading arthouse distributor Artificial Eye made extensive use of a quote attributed to David Hayles of The Times, which suggested that We Are What We Are ‘does for cannibals what Let the Right One In did for vampires’. Undoubtedly, such a link was intended to pull in members of the indie-genre crowd, but such a comparison is valid only on a superficial level, largely because Let the Right One In has depths and complexities which far exceed the shock-simplifications of We Are What We Are.
Much the same could be said of any reference to the recent Greek curio Dogtooth, which takes an similarly skewed look at an equally creepy, maladjusted family, but had a lot more to offer than Grau’s Mexican cannibal cruncher. Although my review may have decried Dogtooth‘s overt kookiness, it managed to play with familial themes much more astutely (and the kookiness at least added some entertainment value, as well as rounding out the intriguing naivety of the central characters). The fact that the ‘children’ in Dogtooth were complete shut-ins also added to a sense of foreboding peril which simply doesn’t face the characters in We Are What We Are, who roam their environment with reckless abandon and only the vaguest hint of vulnerability.
And in some ways, the louche manner in which We Are What We Are‘s trio of teens interact with the outside world (whilst the film attempts to portray them, as the title implies, as merely dysfunctional but otherwise ‘average’ teens), simply dissipates any tension that might otherwise have existed, leaving the film as dull and lifeless as the corpses that the protagonists flay in preparation for their ‘family ritual’.
Indeed, at almost every turn, We Are What We Are features a cinematic cliche of some sort; bumbling cops (all bravado and no nous), the constantly victimised putas, the male as hunter/gatherer, the female – embodied here by the pretty brunette perpetually clothed in a nightdress – as homekeeper. In fact, the only thing that didn’t feel entirely cliched and, if pursued, might actually have added substantially to the film’s complexity and depth, was an all too brief subplot in which we follow the brother stalking another young man, following him to a gay nightclub, kissing him and bringing him home. Of course, the initial promise soon develops into another cliche, with the suggestion being not that this young cannibal had particular sexual urges, but that he was simply using the inherent ‘weakness’ of the young gay male to lure him to his death.
Indeed, where many critics have praised We Are What We Are for its apt portrayal of contemporary Mexican society, I can only see an even broader embrace of cliche and stereotype.
Then again, it was Sunday morning, and I still hadn’t had my breakfast.