We Are What We Are is a Mexican export about a family of cannibals who must learn to cope and survive after the death of the patriarch. There are a couple of grisly scenes, though nothing approaches what passes for standard-issue Hollywood horror gore—and that's a shame.
Unfortunately, it appears that director Jorge Michel Grau has taken his subject far too seriously, and while he's more than comfortable with the idea of people eating the flesh of others, he apparently thinks showing people eating the flesh of others goes too far.
It's a cannibal movie with no teeth.
It's easy enough to substitute vampires for cannibals and recognize how this will play out, up to a certain point. The thirst of a bloodsucker is not terribly unique from the hunger that torments Grau's cannibals. And there's a serving of psychological profiling that can be heaped on the story as well, subtly equating sexual urges with that same hunger. So the director could have intensified the experience with a little more bloodletting; otherwise, it's just a movie about people talking about how they're going to die if they don't get some food.
We Are What We Are examines the family dynamic, noting the power shift that takes place when the father collapses outside of a mall in Mexico City in the film's opening moments. It is an intriguing prospect, especially in this scenario, but it's hardly the front-page news.
The three teenage siblings are not only shell-shocked by the news; they are immediately worried about their own survival, since they depended on Dad to bring home the bacon, so to speak. The sons have differing views on the next step. In this family, "food" is first abducted, then murdered, then eaten (rather than the family going the buffet route and raiding the local morgues). Since the children don't have experience with trapping their own game, things get off to a clumsy start. The mother, though clearly stricken with grief, is not overcome by fear for her own life, and as things play out, she exhibits much more strength than it might initially appear.
What's lacking most in this film—aside from one good feast (seriously, it's like a boxing movie minus all the punching)—is a clear perspective. Grau gives equal weight to the family members, so that when one zigs, there will invariably be a zag. Though a fair amount of this is understandable, given that most of the tension is family drama, it allows We Are What We Are to ultimately be led by the movie's external forces.
Beyond that, there is not nearly enough exploration of how the family came to be cannibals, even though a line of dialogue early in the film—"You'd be surprised how many people in this city eat each other"—is a launching pad good enough for NASA. Is the cannibalism a sickness? A tradition? Merely a perversion of the father that he has tried to pass down to his children? There are some questions raised, but they take a backseat to everything else.
The only unforgettable aspect about this film is its closing theme. While the musical score adds a layer of tension throughout that Grau can't express through words or actions, composer Enrico Chapela outdoes himself with a haunting symphonic masterpiece that, regrettably, viewers will only hear if they aren't muttering about how they expected more from the film while filing into the aisles.