Frank Parker is an old-fashioned kind of guy. The kind who still listens to vinyl and tinkers with analogue wristwatches as a hobby. The kind who dresses his kids like Civil War reenactors once a year and forces them to — wait, you don’t really want me to tell you, do you?
I don’t have to. Based on a 2010 Mexican horror movie, the indie film “We Are What We Are” is so transparent that anyone with half a brain should able to figure out its “secret” inside of 15 minutes. Heck, I had a pretty good idea about what to expect just from looking at the poster.
Still, there’s some fun to be had, as long as your idea of fun includes being grossed out. There is no twist, and really only one conventional fright — the kind that makes you jump — in the whole film. And it isn’t much. Most of what the movie serves up, courtesy of Mr. Parker (Bill Sage, nicely menacing), is more stomach-churning than scary.
Set in rural Pennsylvania, the action is put in motion by the death of Ma Parker (Kassie DePaiva), who suffers some kind of seizure while on a shopping trip. The subsequent unspooling of the plot is fed by three distinct story lines. The first is the investigation of her demise by the coroner (Michael Parks), whose autopsy findings suggest an unusual — and disturbing — cause of death, especially when coupled with the doctor’s discovery of something that looks like a human bone in the woods.
The second thread concerns the surviving Parkers’ preparations for an annual religious observation referred to as “Lambs Day.” With their mother gone, sisters Iris and Rose Parker (Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner) start discussing their aversion to assuming their mom’s Lambs Day duties, the most disturbing part of which falls to Iris, as the eldest daughter. Little brother Rory (the appropriately named Jack Gore) mostly complains about what he imagines to be a “monster” in the cellar.
The third thread is spun by a series of flashbacks to the 1870s, the events of which have been preserved in a journal that serves as the Parkers’ Lambs Day bible.
The film’s rendering of emotion is sensitive, and the acting uniformly fine, with an unrecognizable cameo by Kelly McGillis as the Parkers’ nosy, doomed neighbor. None of the story threads generate much mystery, however, and only the kind of suspense that comes from waiting for the inevitable, crudely foreshadowed climax. When it finally arrives, it will either disgust or delight, depending on your taste.
The entire film takes place against the backdrop of a rainstorm, the arrival of which — bringing flooding, toppled trees and the unearthing of long-buried secrets — is actually a critical plot point. At the beginning of the film, someone makes a prediction about the weather that turns out to be a succinct review of the movie: “It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.”
For some viewers, that’s high praise.
R. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains violence, gore, general creepiness, nudity and sensuality. 105 minutes.