When it was announced that Jorge Michel Grau's 2010 genre debut We Are What We Are – otherwise known as The Mexican Cannibal Film – would be getting an American remake, hopes didn't exactly run high. Happily, Stake Land director Jim Mickle's take on the story of a family of flesh-eaters only lifts the premise of Grau's original and takes it in a completely different direction, while nevertheless holding onto the original's underlying melancholy. Consider it more a translation, in every sense.
Mickle's sharpest move is to take a poor urban family in Mexico and make them a poor rural family in the USA. The motivation for their cannibalism is never quite clear, but we soon deduce that this is a confluence of poverty and religion, as well as a tradition that has been going on since the late 19th century. The second bright decision is to make the protagonists two sisters – Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) – who live with their little brother and overbearing father (Bill Sage) in a trailer park. The third, and equally clever, decision is to follow the Evil Dead remake route and set the action in the middle of a violent storm, one that has dire consequences for the family as the skeletons of the past literally spew up out of the ground.
The switch of gender gives the new We Are What We Are more of a Carrie vibe, and though there are some intense scenes of violence, there is nothing gratuitous or anything that could be described as torture porn. It still may be too graphic for mainstream audience, since another key change involves the family's victims: in the original they feasted on hookers and lowlifes, but here they prey on regular high-school girls, a chilling echo of the recent Amanda Berry case in the USA. But like all good horror stories Mickle's film is really about something else, and the two female leads give terrific performances as cloistered teenagers struggling to come to terms with their place in their world.