Had your fingers burned by too many unimaginative American remakes of foreign horror films? (See ‘Let Me In’, ‘Quarantine’ and ‘Silent House’.) Sceptical about this ‘reimagining’ of Jorge Michel Grau’s grisly 2010 cannibal indie ‘Somos Lo Que Hay’? Fear not. Against all the odds, ‘Stake Land’ director Jim Mickle has cooked up a controlled, affecting ‘companion piece’ that honours the Mexican original while deepening its themes.
Transplanted from Mexico City to the flood-ravaged countryside of New York State, Mickle’s film offers a more female-centric family dynamic. Following the death of their mother and their father’s slide into depression, it falls to 17-year-old Iris and her younger sister Rose to prepare for a feast involving the flesh of a freshly slaughtered human. But as the day approaches, and reality bites, the dutiful daughters start to resist their dad and the demands of their traditions. Meanwhile, fragments of bone exposed by the rain-swollen river make the locals suspicious.
Captured by Ryan Samuel’s glistening cinematography, the rain-sodden exteriors and softly glowing interiors are shot through with sadness, as the shy sisters struggle to throw off the bonds of zealotry. Flashbacks to the seventeenth century reveal the origins of their cannibal ritual. But what place do these beliefs, laid out in their father’s ancient cookbook, have now? Although focused on the imploding family, Mickle’s gently simmering film confronts the visceral reality of their cannibalism. Yet even these flesh-tearing scenes generate a heartbreaking empathy for the daughters’ plight rather than disgust at their taboo-breaking appetites.