We Are What We Are: Horror in Upstate New York

We Are What We Are

Opens Fri., Oct. 11 at Varsity. Rated R. 105 minutes.

Teenage vampires have had their day (Twilight ad nauseam), Carrie’s about to arrive again, and even a teenage zombie fell in love in Warm Bodies. So what new twist can be added to the canon of adolescent romance/body-horror? Iris (Ambyr Childers) suddenly finds herself second-in-command in the curious Parker family following the death of her mother. There’s also a son of about 6 and 14-year-old Rose (Julia Garner) in the upstate New York household, which any census taker would classify as rural and poor. Out in the shed, grieving patriarch Frank (Bill Sage) repairs antique watches and keeps an eye on the trap door below, whence plaintive female cries are sometimes heard. What’s he keeping down there? Why does Frank force his family to fast before their annual Sabbath dinner? And why does no one recognize the scripture he recites at his wife’s grave?

It’s the Testament of Alyce Parker, we eventually learn, an 18th-century forbear whose diary of near-starvation during colonial times has now become a very peculiar family creed. This remake of a 2010 Mexican horror movie (a fable of urban inequality) has been given a leafy Catskills treatment; the early scenes of nature and pregnant rain clouds are almost Thoreauvian in their serenity. And director Jim Mickle takes a leisurely hour before detailing the dietary facts of the Parker family. They are strict locavores, leaving the food miles to their prey.

This isn’t the kind of movie where people are cleanly killed with guns. Shovels, hammers, tire irons, and teeth are the preferred instruments of slaughter. The Parker sisters have been raised in a violent home where rebellion is inevitable. “I just wish we were like other people,” says Rose. “We aren’t,” snaps Iris, though she has eyes for a handsome town cop. Meanwhile, a local MD (Michael Parks) begins to follow the bones—unearthed by torrential rains—back to Frank.

Unlike most modern horror flicks, the shocks here come only at the end; and the movie is too slow and somber for its own good. (Frank is also a disappointingly dull Bible-thumper.) The cell phones belong to the ’90s, and Frank dresses his clan in frontier fashions. Yet their solemn anachronism becomes comic when a friendly/nosy neighbor drops by with a casserole. “It’s vegetarian lasagna!,” says a cheerful Kelly McGillis. Yes, Kelly McGillis. Needless to say, the Parkers don’t eat vegetarian.

bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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