THE ZONE have my review of Jorge Michel Grau’s recent art house cannibal film We Are What We Are (a.k.a. Somos Lo Que Hay).
Though undeniably atmospheric and full of potential, the film never quite manages to get its ducks in a row. Instead of developing a coherent line of thought, the film flirts with various ideas. Cannibalism as a relationship with one’s family. Cannibalism as living a GLBT lifestyle. Cannibalism as living in a state with a corrupt police force. All of these ideas drift through the script and the film’s imagery but none of them are ever fleshed out or pursued.
Watching the film I was reminded of the post-’68 vendetta waged by the Cahiers du Cinema against Costa-Gavras’ film Z (1969). In her flawed but punchy history of the Cahiers, A Short History of Cahiers du Cinema(2010), Emilie Bickerton characterises the Cahiers reaction to the Serie-Z as :
With Z you had a film-maker who was addressing politics on the surface, but simultaneously banalizing it. Costa-Gavras was thus perfectly attuned to the changes in public demand: he offered a film that was shot with panache, a lively score, a hint of experimentation (…) it was intelligent and committed but never revolutionary, in either narrative content or aesthetic form. — pp. 65
I think a similar failing can be identified in We Are What We Are. It is a film that relies quite heavily upon an audience’s familiarity with genre tropes. To make sense of the film, you have to be aware of serial killer narratives, zombie narratives and crime narratives. It presents itself as a film that has taken on the ideas and imagery of genre only to project them forward into a more ‘grown up’ cinematic milieu and so it appeals to people who, though familiar with genre tropes, are wanting more from their cinematic experiences than explosions and special effects. However, despite promising a deeper level of intellectual engagement than your average genre piece, We Are What We Are is empty and insubstantial.
This is a growing problem.