As anyone is likely to tell you after spending a long weekend home for the holidays, family can be a chore. And most of us don’t even have relations like the Parkers, the upstate New York clan at the center of Jim Mickle’s latest, We Are What We Are. Even without the ominous portents of ceaseless rain and missing persons flyers (and disquieting similarity to that Ke$ha song), there’s clearly something unsettling about father Frank (Bill Sage) and daughters Iris and Rose. The family is dealing with the death of their mother Emma (Kassie DePaiva), who drowns after suffering what appears to be a seizure in the opening scene. Their burden is twofold, for not only must the oddly religious clan deal with the immediate grief of their matriarch’s passing, but it now falls to Iris to lead the annual ancestral ritual known as “Lamb’s Day.” I won’t spoil the fun, but suffice to say nothing as pastoral as sheep shearing is involved. Based on the Mexican film Somos lo que hay, but without that film’s sprawling urban milieu, We Are What We Are relies on atmosphere and solid performances by Sage (channeling Alferd Packer by way of Billy Ray Cyrus) and veteran character actor Michael Parks (as a local doctor wrestling with his own demons) to escort us through the largely predictable proceedings. It isn’t until the ending, which turns the squirm amplifier up to 11 and exceeded even my horrific expectations, that we finally see the story’s potential realized.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 25, 2013