There’s much to savor in Jim Mickle’s “We Are What We Are,” a horror film about a kind of religious fanaticism that’s gone way off the rails. The movie saves most of its modest number of jolts for its last quarter or so, which makes them all the more intense. They stick in your craw – and be warned, they’re not for the squeamish.
Something’s off about the Parker family, who live in a depressed part of the Catskills under the strict reign of God-fearing, bearded patriarch Frank (Bill Sage). Teenage daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) have the ethereal look of 19th-century portrait paintings. Their young brother Rory (Jack Gore) seems perpetually hungry.
As the film opens, their mother abruptly collapses and dies of an unspecified illness during an errand in town. Despite his grief, Frank insists that the family continue its annual preparations for a ritual that involves several days of fasting.
The girls, who are really the film’s focus, carry out their extremely unpleasant duties with great reluctance. Meanwhile, the local doctor (Michael Parks) has done an autopsy on Mrs. Parker, with a disturbing finding. Soon comes a report that another young woman is missing, and torrential rains uncover human body parts.
Director Mickle (“Stake Land”) uses the basic story from a 2010 Mexican movie of the same title. Despite the generally somber tone, there are a few moments when he seems to be tweaking genre buffs’ memories of movies by the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper.
But I don’t think he’s kidding about his main point, which is that in certain forested corners of America, nightmarish, crackpot religious beliefs take root and grow, and are passed on from generation to generation.
A final note, mainly for non-buffs: Be prepared for an ending that’s genuinely berserk.