Emma Parker (Kassie Wesley DePaiva) is mother to three children and wife to Frank (Bill Sage), who has kept the family under a strict religious code for years, all drawn from the traditions in his own upbringing. But this has been taking its toll on Emma, and as she leaves the house to shop for supplies in the pouring rain, she begins to feel unwell. There has been a spate of missing persons around this rural community for some time now, and as she enters the hardware store she becomes acutely aware of this, managing to secure her purchases but on stumbling back to the car she starts to bleed and topples into a water trough. What was so wrong with Emma that she dropped dead?
A better title might have been We Are What We Eat, since this remake of the Mexican Jorge Michel Grau horror film of three years before took as its subject the issue of cannibalism. That's not a spoiler, as we know early on that the Parker family have weird rituals and as we join them once they find out about Emma's demise, they are going through their regular fasting in preparation for a big meal. At first we think it's the enforced belief system Frank has implemented over his offspring that will be the final straw as they begin to get restless with hunger, but the reality is a lot less acceptable, as director Jim Mickle and his co-screenwriter Nick Damici demonstrated in an ending which divided audiences.
Before we reached that finale there was a lot of mean and moody atmospherics to contend with as oldest daughter Iris (Ambyr Childers) is trying to live up to her father's expectations, yet in its way this was a tale of abuse and bad guidance handed down through centuries, the descendants very much piloted towards their twisted tenets by the corrosive effects of their elders but not necesarily betters. Mickle added flashbacks to those ancestors to illustrate how carrying out an act out of survival needs turned into a sacred ritual in a bastardisation of Christianity and all its ceremonies, another theme being if you stopped and thought about what you had been doing as a matter of course you might wake up to the fact that you'd be better off thinking for yourself.
And also that a lot of those ceremonies and traditions made no sense outside of the religion in question; Mickle and Damici were not quite tackling Father Christmas, or even Jesus Christ, to the ground and demanding to know what they thought they were doing, but that was the tone, overlaid with a sombre, sinister quality as events close in around the Parkers, making us and them aware they cannot continue in the way they have - there must be a breaking point. For one thing, the local doctor (Michael Parks) after performing an autopsy on Emma notices odd things about her physical state, a possible brain condition which might indicate Parkinson's but might also indicate, ooh, I dunno, maybe an unhealthy diet? This is a bit of a stretch since you have to assume she was munching on human brains as well as the other parts, but then this was one twisted clan.
Mickle kept the pace slow and deliberate, only briefly bursting into life for, ironically, the death sequences, which could (and did) give rise to accusations that We Are What We Are was a tad dull, even boring; it was true you needed a measure of patience with it to allow its implications to sink in. The director had no problems with his cast, who went about their tasks with single-minded dedication, with not a wrong note sounded by any of them, and Sage, Childers and Parks standing out as lending credibility to a plot that could have easily gone Herschell Gordon Lewis at the drop of a hat (or a head). Much of this was taken from the basis set by Grau's efforts, but Mickle and his team did make enough changes for this to stand on its own, even if those who found him a promising talent might have lamented him heading for the remake territory with such enthusiasm. Yet it was not so much that it was second hand material here than what was done with it, not traditionally enjoyable particularly, but well made and enough of an entity in itself to be worthwhile.