We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) – Movie Review

Dad dies in a poverty-stricken family and the young cannibals have to put food on the table. What are the kids to do?

This corker of a horror film is so understated that it takes the first half of the film for the viewer to simply figure out it is horrible. Paulina Gaitán plays sister Sabina and Francisco Barreiro plays Alfredo and Alan Chavez plays Julian, the brothers of the deceased father.

Sabina is worldly well beyond her years. She enters the film after a long night on the streets at an undisclosed location. Her mother is furious but the daughter says nothing. This has happened before and the stage is set for things to get worse.

Indecisive Alfredo is a closeted homosexual, sadistic Julian and domineering sister Sabina burn with suppressed incestuous longing. The sudden death of its patriarch leaves a Mexican clan bereft, panicked about their survival and fumbling to continue a family tradition—namely, a cannibalistic rite that involves the hunting and gathering of fresh human meat in present-day Mexico City.

The children are casting off the mother in the wake of their father’s death. Mom has been keeping the poverty-stricken family together with her brand of tough love.

When this tough love becomes the rules surrounding the consumption of human bodies, the film turns very strange, very fast. There is a downward spiral into the most realistic horror that has been shown on the silver screen this year.

Julian is young and twitchy. He is prone to outbursts of violence against anybody who questions the family. His older brother Alfredo is supposed to take over the family after the father’s death but his mother will not let him do it.

He is cowed and unable to find a sense of direction. Normally this would be heartrending. But when the indecision happens in the context of kidnapping, murdering and eating people from the streets, the kid may be justified.

You get the picture about this film. Something very different. In a cruel twist of fate young actor Alan Chavez, who also plays Barreiro’s younger brother in “Somos Lo Que Hay,” was gunned down by police in Mexico City in September. He was only nineteen.

Enter the pair of crooked cops whose desire to catch the deviants dining on local prostitutes ranks right up there with getting fresh doughnuts. The two inject their own particular brand of black humor into the situation. They are so concerned about getting bribes out of the situation that they don’t even consider the emotional consequences of living on other’s bodies.

The picture dares the viewer to decide who is the crazier, the cannibals or the cops.

As the boys are forced to go out a get people they become involved in the darkest and most incredibly profane acts of violence on the streets. The older brother begins to act out his latent homosexual leanings by kidnapping a gay man to eat but the operation is foiled by strange circumstances.

Street prostitutes become a target of choice but the mother is furious when she finds out the moral bankruptcy of her next meal. Sister Sabina seems to want to have sex with her brothers but she is held back by a life outside the house that is never revealed to the audience.

This is one of the first feature flicks of young director Jorge Michel Grau and is a fantastic start to a great career. It combines slow-burning suspense with an undercurrent of simply bizarre lifestyles taken from the streets of Mexico City. The movie marks a whole new approach to horror. Cinema verite of the unbelievable. You wish it were fiction but it is too weird to be anything but the truth.

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Written and Directed by: Jorge Michel Grau
Starring: Francisco Barreiro, Alan Chávez and Paulina Gaitan
2010 New York Film Festival, screened September 30, 2010
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 99 minutes
Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Color: Color