We Are What We Are opens as a lyrical family drama and slowly unfolds into a frightening horror movie. While the story and characters are never sacrificed for the sake of shock, at the end of the film, the man next to me verbalized the general feeling in the theater: “damn.” The craft was never lost because Jim Mickle, who co-wrote, directed, and edited the film, clearly saw any horror as a natural result of the events and the characters decisions. He answered some of my questions before heading off to Denver for another round of interviews before the Woodstock Film Festival.
Anna Vosbigian: I liked how at the beginning, you stayed with the person who was observing things and gradually you see more until the end when you see everything. How did you develop that?
Jim Mickle: Michael Parks’s character, Doc Barrow, he’s the eyes into the story and we really wanted to do a story that was about what you don’t know that was going to hold you back and not start the movie with a flashback of “10 years ago my daughter’s missing!” but letting that be something that you can pick up only if you’re paying attention to the clues along the way and not being afraid to let the defining moment of the character be something you don’t actually learn about them until 75 minutes into the movie. I’d been seeing movies recently that did that and are really effective and I was really in awe of the filmmakers’ confidence to be able to do that.
AV: What were some of those films?
JM: Martha Marcy May Marlene is a really beautiful version of that and I remember seeing that and just felling like it was the first time I had really seen a movie in a way. It’s hard to watch movies after you make movies because you really think about all the hardships that go into it and what shots must have been really hard to pull off. My sister’s a production designers and I always watch movies with her and I’m always, “Oh, what did you think? That was a cool scene.” And she’s like, “Yeah, the wallpaper’s really great.” But when I saw Martha Marcy, I could just sit and let it take over and have an emotional effect on me.
AV: What was it like filming the scene where [SPOILER] they eat their dad?
JM: It was fun. It was a lot of fun. Julia [Garner] was especially nervous; she had never done anything like that. When you do stuff that’s very technical based – where you’ve got to hit a mark because it’s got to be in focus here, you’ve got to bite down right here as they pump the blood, but you also have to do that at the same time as something really emotionally intense – it’s really hard because it’s hard to stay in character and be able to do all that. I kept on telling her, “I’m not going to be happy unless I call cut and you’ll be surprised at how big you went because you didn’t know that you had that in you, that rage in you” because she’s very reserved. And she did, completely went for it like a true professional. Then as soon as everyone did it, it was like, “This is great, this is fun” and then for the rest of the night we just had fun shooting it.
AV: Another thing I really liked about the movie were all the parallels between the past and even just the different people in the present. How did you come up with all that?
JM: We discover as it goes. Nick writes that stuff and I don’t know if he does that on purpose or if he just feels it and it comes out that way, but I love how Bill Sage’s character is the mirror of Michael’s character and they’re two men who are presented with these travesties in their life, and they’re both trying to do the best job they can and one makes the wrong decision and ruins his family and Michael is able to actually have some closure in his and what leads to what is fascinating. To be honest, I have no idea how he does it.
AV: Do you have any favorite story from the set?
JM: Favorite story from the set… The little kid, Jack [Gore], who plays Rory, he didn’t know any more than his character knew: he knew we get together and have these meals in the story and we’re sitting there and Julia is crying and Ambyr [Childers] is crying and Bill’s being mean. And so he would stuff his face with the stew and I’d call cut and he’d still be eating it and I’d come in and I’d be like, “Julia,” she’s crying, “Julia, let’s talk, do you need a moment emotionally?” And Jack’s like, “Jim, Jim, Jim?” and I’d be like “Jack hold on I’m talking to Julia.” And then I’d come over and I’d be like, “Jack what’s up?” and he’s like “This is really good, you have to give this recipe to my mom.” His mom came in the next day and said that the first thing he did when they got to the hotel was he vomited all night because he ate too much of the stew.
AV: Did he get to see the movie?
JM: He didn’t, no. He introduced it at Sundance and he came up at the premier, I held him up, and he said, “I’m Jack, I can’t watch this movie for another ten years, but I hope you like it. I’m going to go to bed now. It’s past my bedtime.”