Somos Lo Que Hay (We Are What We Are) is a Mexican horror from first time feature director Francisco Barreiro. Slow burning and containing some interesting ideas, it ends up feeling disappointingly lightweight and, for a film dealing with cannibals, oddly lacking in bite.
This is a film that it’s difficult to truly embrace, however much you might find yourself wanting to. Our family of cannibalistic protagonists (two brothers, their sister and their creepily familial mother) finds themselves without a man to lead the family after their father/husband dies during the introductory sequence. This is a section that ends up being indicative of the film as a whole: well shot, fleetingly suspenseful and flirting with dark humour, but not really standing out.
The lead actors’ good performances shed an unfortunate light on the script’s frailties, portraying their characters with vigour but hamstrung by a narrative that is determined not to give too much away. Ambiguity can be a devastating cinematic tool, but in this case it feels more frustrating than enticing. The characters come across as interesting and conflicted in one sense but their actions are so rooted in the central narrative that the intrigue gets lost along the way. This isn’t helped by the languid pace, which ensures that we have plenty of time to wonder why we aren’t enjoying it more. In the final third the pace quickens, building toward a well staged climax that at least allows the film to bow out on a high.
Given the situation currently gripping Mexico, it is easy to read parallels into the characters and events of the film. The police giving chase to our hungry family are presented as incompetent and uncaring, their desire to solve the case primarily motivated by greed. These bumbling anti-heroes provide some of the best comic beats in a film which actually manages to raise a few chuckles amidst the darkness. Kudos to the filmmakers for excellent use of a shovel and a gang of prostitutes.
Somos Lo Que Hay is not without charm, and is certainly technically proficient. Likewise, the performances are good and the black humour works surprisingly well. It is a pity, then, that the whole things feels rather laboured, as though the good ideas were bursting to come out but never quite g estated the way they ought to have done. It ends up being less than the sum of its parts, but is certainly better than a fair amount of the horror coming out of Hollywood at present.