We Are What We Are starts off at a shopping center where an old man stumbles about in front of mannequins in front of a store window just before he collapses and bites the dust. Custodians, in a very cold and routine manner, come out and move his body aside in order to mop up the blood he’s coughed up, leaving the scene as impeccable as it had been moments before. This is all in the vein of the 70s horror tradition, the stage is set for a satirical take on consumer society, with the monsters being ourselves, callously doing away with a body and carrying on with our vain human existence without giving the stranger’s death another thought.
In this film, though, the ‘consumer’ figure is not a zombie, he’s a cannibal. Mexican director Jorge Michel Grau explores what would happen if we were not reduced to the role of mindless lemmings, vis-à-vis zombie caricatures, but rather held to a higher level of responsibility through the new role of fully-functional humans making conscious decisions to devour one another, all in ritualistic fashion. The implications add considerable new dimensions to what would otherwise be commonplace satire horror.
The dead man at the shopping mall is the man of a family of cannibals who are left without any leader to provide their sustenance for them, and so the two sons have to take it upon themselves to go on hunts. The son who becomes leader is timid and hesitant to finish a kill. He struggles to fulfill his role. He comes to realize just how much others have to suffer in order for him and his family to eat comfortably. He and his brother’s pursuits take them to very places in Mexico City’s underworld that accentuate civilization’s self-destructive dog-eat-dog behaviors, ranging from back-alley confrontations with street-walkers, to the back of a dodgy gay nightclub where the protagonist is warned of seducers who prey on others. “Be careful, or they’ll eat you alive in here,” says one flirtatious individual on the dance floor, moments before downing a shot of alcohol and making his way to the restrooms in an attempt to lure our protagonist to a more comfortable location.
The film’s setbacks are its near total lack of humor and its lack of sympathetic or developed characters. The dynamics of the cannibal’s relationship to the world is conceptually intriguing, and there is a good deal of suspense (the father repairs old clocks and watches, so there’s plenty use of related sounds going on in the background throughout the movie), but the payoff feels a bit weak for these other reasons.
“We Are What We Are” is competing at the Sitges Film Festival and will be available on Video-on-Demand in 2011.