Shot mostly in the small towns of Andes, Bovina, and Halcottsville in upstate New York, We Are What We Are quickly established itself as horror for grown-ups. On day one of the shoot we were in a vast, dank cave. Shackled to the rock wall was a woman stripped of all her clothing... and of much of her flesh. By the end of week one, a bloated corpse was pulled out of the water, a throat slit open, and human meat was devoured around a campfire. Anyone looking for safe, fluffy, PG-13 horror best move along. However, We Are What We Are is not an empty-headed gore-fest, either. It is written and directed for maximum drama, acted for maximum intensity, and shot for maximum atmosphere.
Director Jim Mickle ferociously sunk his claws into the horror scene first with his low-budget, high-impact feature film debut, Mulberry Street (2006). The movie told the nasty tale of a mysterious rat-carried virus turning Manhattan residents into bloodthirsty, zombie-like killers. Mickle co-wrote the film with Nick Damici (In the Cut, World Trade Center), who also played the leading role.
While Mulberry Street was rooted in gritty, grimy urban claustrophobia, Mickle’s next film Stake Land took us on a journey through eerily quiet countryside and battered scraps of civilization in a post-apocalyptic world. In the wake of a vampire epidemic bringing the United States crumbling down, a father/son bond germinates after a skilled vamp slayer (Nick Damici) saves a teen’s life (Connor Paolo of television’s Gossip Girl). Stake Land was a road trip film meshed with a western, and wrapped up in a vicious horror movie. Also co-written by Mickle and Damici, Stake Land received glowing reviews and much horror fan adoration.
Not one to settle into a rut, Jim Mickle has shifted gears again to deliver a whole new flavor of twisted horror. His new film, We Are What We Are is about a terrible flood that decimates a community. The wild waters wash up clues that lead the authorities closer and closer to the cannibalistic Parker family.
We Are What We Are is the American “reimagining” of the Mexican film Somos Lo Que Hay (2010), directed by Jorge Michel Grau. Mickle’s version plucks certain plot threads and thematic elements from the original Mexican film, but Mickle’s is far from a shot-for-shot remake. He has broadened the story to include much more of the community in which the cannibalistic family lives; and, while the flood is a major element throughout Mickle’s film, not a drop of it exists in the Mexican original.
There was very much a “Stake Land Reunion” feel on the set of We Are What We Are. Mickle has again co-written the script with Damici, who plays a supporting role. Ryan Samul, cinematographer on both Mulberry Street and Stake Land was back behind the camera. Producer Linda Moran, special effects artists Brian Spears and Pete Gerner, costume designer Liz Vastola, and numerous other Stake Land veterans (including me) were back on set. Actors returning to work again with Mickle included Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, Witness) and Larry Fessenden (Habit).
The We Are What We Are leading actors formed a unique and fascinating ensemble. Bill Sage (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) wears the blood-splattered pants in the family as the father, Frank Parker. Kassie DePaiva (Evil Dead 2, ABC’s One Life To Live) plays the flesh-eating family’s matriarch. The Parker sisters are played by Ambyr Childers (Playback, The Master) and Julia Garner (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Electrik Children). Kurt and Goldie’s offspring Wyatt Russell (Cowboys And Aliens) plays a young, green deputy working his way through the ghastly case. Genre film favorite Michael Parks (Red State, Planet Terror) is community pillar Doc Barrow. McGillis plays Marge, a nosey neighbor who soon finds the Parker family’s bloodshed at her own front door.
Brutal storms and devastating flooding are major components of the plot. Therefore, starting on day one of the We Are What We Are shoot, water was everywhere. Usually both cast and crew were working in thigh-deep water or getting soaked by rain towers. Rubber waders and rain ponchos were common uniform for the crew. Cameras and gear were often seen wrapped in plastic. Wardrobe, hair, and makeup departments agonized over continuity as actors routinely got drenched. Making things worse – and at times dangerous – were the cold nights in upstate New York. The plummeting temperatures made things uncomfortable for those of us who stayed dry - I’m sure the chill inflicted much worse suffering upon the soaking-wet actors.
We Are What We Are is an ambitious movie, a project that is attempting to accomplish much more than your average independent film. What pulled this project through when resources were limited and days of shooting finite, was the tenacity of Mickle and his team. Long hours, grueling workloads, and high stress combined to test the limits of the director, cast, and crew. However, their resolve to make the best film possible was unshaken.
The final day of shooting was in a subterranean tunnel that had been constructed on a soundstage. It was a long last day, starting mid-afternoon and ending at around 9 a.m. the next morning. When wrap was finally called, director Mickle looked both exhausted and thrilled. He and his cast and crew had pulled it off.
Mickle is now submerged in post-production, preparing for us a delectable feast of unique, unsettling, blood (and rain) soaked horror. Grab a fork and get ready to dive in…