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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 09.12.13] horror

Family traditions and values in rural America. This is the topic at hand in the new feature from Stake Land director Jim mickle. It's based on the eponymous Spanish Somos Lo Que Hai from Jorge Michel Grau, that was, for the record, also screened here at L'Etrange in 2010, but I ended up not reviewing because, to me, it was a complete waste of a good idea. This one won't change your life either, but at least it's cute.

Maybe not the epithet you were expecting for a movie about people eating each other, but as far as these stories usually go, the idea is always the same. I've lost count of how many present a tradition to uphold, rooted in the dire winters of the wild west where the good old leg rota was the way to survive. As far as narrative food goes, this stew as been re-heated so many times it's beginning to stick at the bottom.

As always in these stories, you have a reclusive family bound together by tradition and belief. As always you have some unexpected trouble just before the big strange annual/monthly ritual that will serve as a purpose for the narrative, the exterior influence that will propel the stable world into turmoil, conflict and mayhem. In this story, everything is Christian flavored, there's a leather-bound, hand-written bible as a tabernacle and lots of sermons, prayers and pastoral parables. So, of course, the exterior influence will be a flood. There's always something of a biblical judgement in a flood, it's not original, but it works... ask Noah about it. Still painting-by-the-numbers of course you'll get the teen offspring wanting to break with tradition, yet perpetuating it reluctantly. I think you'll be able to fill in the rest yourselves.

There are many unintentional comedic moments. Take the character design for example: The thundering patriarchal figure, the diaphanous sisters and the nosy brat with a dog's name. Living in between worlds, in the vaporous blur between tradition and modernity, hence a few troubles in the visual comprehension department. They go out looking like hipsters in plaid shirts, but once home it's either a subtle Paul Harnden ad, or a fetish for Little House on the Prairie giving the viewer an odd feeling of time displacement, a setting that is actually exponentially reinforced by the candles in mason jars in lieu of lights during the storm/flood-caused blackout. When you've switched gears to a period drama and a cell phone goes off, the last remnant of coherence you might have had whirs away.

There's also a few shortcuts in narrative that don't really agree with the sloth pace of the overall piece; and a few gratuitous scenes that we could have done without. On a cheerful note, the final sequence is almost pornographic in it's framing and body positions.

Sadly, the resolving moment, shown in the trailer by the way, linking the family affliction to Kuru disease is a bit off point since it's endemic to a small tripe in Papua New Guinea and was basically targeting the lowest end of their food chain - woman and children that were eating the leftovers instead of cuts from hystologically-noble parts. It's surely more exotic sounding than Creutzfeld-Jakob, but still it's a prion disease and no affliction spawns ex-nihilo. To have a prion disease you have to eat prion infected material, cannibalism or no... Therefore a bit of public health announcement on my part: If you want to eat your fellow man, please stick to the myocytes. You'll be better for it.

For those interested in the technicalities, let it be known that the cinematography is the same as Stake Land, meaning you can freeze frame anything and sell it as an indie post-rock album sleeve.

Lastly, the director presented it not as a remake but more as a companion piece that can be screened side by side with source material. This is wrong. It's vastly superior to the original material. The toned-down histrionics and the total lack of stampeding-trannies-straight-out-of-the benny-hill-show is a real plus. Still, I'm tired of the pickup truck-going-into-the-wilderness-towards-an-unknown-future type of closure. I know it helps the marketing guys plan a sequel, but still. What's wrong with the word "END"? One movie, one closed loop. Personally, I liked that.

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