'We Are What We Are' is a little bit terrifying

  • Julia Garner, left, and Ambyr Childers play the daughters of a mysterious man who keeps to himself in Jim Mickle's gothic drama "We Are What We Are."

    Julia Garner, left, and Ambyr Childers play the daughters of a mysterious man who keeps to himself in Jim Mickle's gothic drama "We Are What We Are."

Updated 10/11/2013 1:52 PM

Reel Life mini-review: "We Are What We Are"
It has been a long, long, long time since a motion picture has truly horrified me. Jim Mickle's moody and unpredictable "We Are What We Are" did it. And did it well by keeping the gore at a minimum while emphasizing suspense and frayed conflicts of loyalties.

Mickle, working with screenwriter Nick Damici (who also plays the ineffective sheriff), based his gothic horror tale on a 2010 Mexican movie, but made so many extensive changes that it almost qualifies as original.


In the backwoods of the Catskills, Frank Parker (Bill Sage) struggles to raise his two teen daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) plus their little brother Rory (Jack Gore) following the tragic accidental drowning of their mother (Kassie DePaiva).

"I wish we could be normal," Rose laments. Then, the rest of this slow-burning-fused thriller reveals what she's referring to. All in good, calculated time.

I will not reveal much more here. The plot is for trailers and certain other critics to ruin. One one level, "We Are What We Are" presents the meatiest discussion about nature vs. nurture since "Trading Places."

On another level, Mickle's movie represents that rarity in the horror genre, an intelligent, surprisingly mature gothic drama where the human capacity for inhumanity grabs us by our collective throats with such realism that this story could have been gleaned from the front pages of local newspapers.

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Watch for excellent supporting performances by Michael Parks as the local doctor still searching for his long-ago missing daughter, Kelly McGillis as the Parkers' suspicious neighbor, and Wyatt Russell (Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn's son) as the cute Deputy Anders, who carries the torch for Iris Parker.

"We Are What We Are" opens at the Music Box, Chicago. Rated R for language, nudity, sexual situations and graphic violence. 100 minutes. ★ ★

Reel Life mini-review: "When Comedy Went to School"
You'd think that a relatively brief documentary on how the Catskills resorts (the backdrop for that musical gem "Dirty Dancing") shaped a generation of comedians might be bouncy, bold and riotously funny.

Sometimes, but only in brief respites from the uninspired, superficial, reportorial manner that directors Ron Frank and Mevlut Akkaya adopt in telling this rich history of how the Catskills became a college of comedy for Jewish superstars such as Jerry Lewis, Henny Youngman, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Rodney Dangerfield, Woody Allen and the surprisingly spry Mort Sahl.


Robert Klein narrates this doc with all the verve and pep of those guys who provide voice-overs for educational videos in high schools. The star interviews feel like cut-and-paste sound bites. They might be amusing, but don't get to the dirt, the behind-the-scenes stories about what really went on offstage.

Where's the joy? Where's the dramatic conflict? Where's the beef? Uh, brisket?

"When Comedy Went to School" opens at the Northbrook Court 14. Not rated, but suitable for general audiences. 87 minutes. ★ ★

Reel Life film notes:
• It's back! The atmospherically scary horror movie "Munger Road" -- written and directed by St. Charles native Nick Smith -- this weekend returns to the Charlestowne 18 Theater, 3740 E. Main St., St. Charles, for a weeklong run.

Set in St. Charles, "Munger Road" stars Bruce Davison as the local police chief, called upon to protect the public from an escaped lunatic at the same time two teen couples get trapped in a stalled car on a supposedly haunted road. Go to bit.ly/n9Yoru for the back story of how Smith made this film. Rated PG-13. 86 minutes ★ ★ ★

• They call it "the Massacre," 24 hours of nonstop horror movies that start at noon Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Patio Theater, 6008 Irving Park Road, Chicago. It begins with horror trailers and ends with Sam Raimi's "Army of Darkness." Guest stars are scheduled. Advance tickets cost $20 ($25 at the door). Go to patiotheater.net for info.

• Lincolnshire Stadium 21 will host Regal Entertainment's new Classic Film Series beginning Sunday, Oct. 13. The series runs Sunday and Wednesday nights through November. Movies include "Bonnie and Clyde," "The Matrix," "The Shining," "Dirty Harry," "Risky Business" and "JFK." Go to regmovi.es/15nijCU,

• Dear Dann: I was reading your article regarding the movie "Gravity" and would like to add another Lake Zurich reference.

In 1993, the movie "Mad Dog and Glory" mentioned Lake Zurich. Steven A. Jones coproduced this movie and is a dear friend to my husband and me. Steven told us to watch for a little "tip of the hat" to us that he had added to the script. There is a part in the movie where Robert De Niro mentions that he's saving money for land in Lake Zurich. (The movie was filmed in Chicago.) -- Ellen Wu, Lake Zurich

Dear Ellen: Thanks for the memory jog. "Mad Dog and Glory" was directed by Chicagoan John McNaughton, whose latest movie "The Harvest" is showing Oct. 19 at River East 21 as part of the Chicago International Film Festival. -- Dann

• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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