Movies: We are What We Are ****
(16, limited release)
While Jorge Michel Grau's remarkably accomplished debut feature is ostensibly a grisly account of cannibalism in a rundown suburb, like all good horror films it has grander aims than mere shock.
In a nicely handled opening sequence that recalls the work of George Romero, an old and clearly unwell man staggers through a brightly lit Mexican shopping mall pointing at scantily clad mannequins in the shop windows before collapsing and dying.
He, it turns out, is the beloved father of a family of cannibals who seem to think they will perish on the spot if they don't find more flesh soon. The dad was the procurer and, after his demise, a kind of power vacuum ensues, with the two grown-up sons vying for control of the family with their harsh and shrewish mother. The real brains of the operation is their sister, who thinks she's found her way out of their dilemma. But no one has the sense to listen to her, and when one of the boys makes the mistake of allowing a victim to escape, the family are threatened with exposure.
If We are What We Are sounds unduly grisly, it is, but only intermittently, because Grau is more interested in creating an atmosphere of dread than drenching his sets with gore.
He's not the first director to use horror as a metaphor for society's ills, but nevertheless his seemingly passing depiction of modern-day Mexico as a land mired in venality and corruption is both subtle and damning.
In fact, it's the theme that sticks in your mind: when cops sift through the detritus of a grisly crime scene they're more interested in pocketing valuables than looking for clues.
Neither does Grau make the mistake of explaining or justifying the more ghoulish aspects of his story: the family are flatly presented to us as hopeless and superstitious cannibals, and we accept them as such.
There are some lovely touches to the way Grau handles violent scenes, avoiding the obvious and clichéd wherever possible and suggesting more than is ever shown courtesy of a blood-curdling soundtrack. All in all, in fact, We are What We Are is a bit of treat.