Tag Archives: religion

Lunar New Year 2017 in Taipei, Taiwan

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Colorful lanterns and crowds of revelers in front of Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan on New Year’s Eve 2017. SCREAMfmLondon

This weekend, I happened to be in Taipei, Taiwan in time to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which fell on Saturday, Jan. 28 this year.

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Colorful lanterns represent the Year of the Rooster. SCREAMfmLondon

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster.

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Lunar New Year 2017 in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

Around town, many Taiwanese people burned Joss paper (also known as “ghost money”) in metal fire pits as part of a special holiday ceremony. The sheets of paper are burned in honor of the deceased.

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Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

Ciyou Temple is an ornate temple dedicated to Mazu, a Chinese goddess of the sea. The temple was built in 1753 and is an impressive historical landmark in the Songshan District of Taipei.

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Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

The temple has an impressive six floors of detailed decorations to see.

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Lanterns cover the street in honor of Lunar New Year. SCREAMfmLondon

After midnight on the new year, locals shoot off fireworks to celebrate.

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Happy Lunar New Year 2017! SCREAMfmLondon

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Happy Lunar New Year! SCREAMfmLondon

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Buddha’s birthday: Lotus Lantern Festival

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A fire-breathing dragon lantern impresses the crowds at Seoul’s annual Lotus Lantern Festival on May 16. SCREAMfmLondon

This weekend, Seoul hosted Yeon Deung Hoe — Korea’s annual Lotus Lantern Festival in honor of Buddha’s birthday on May 25.

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Yeon Deung Hoe is a festival to celebrate Buddha’s birthday on May 25. SCREAMfmLondon

The highlight of the festival is a spectacular lantern parade complete with pyrotechnics, traditional dancers, high school marching bands and an unimaginable variety of elaborate, multicolored lanterns.

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Some lanterns are religious, depicting scenes such as Buddha’s birth, while others show beautiful animals, characters from traditional folk tales and pigs riding motorcycles. SCREAMfmLondon

The parade is centered around the Jogyesa temple, the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, where lotus lanterns cover the entire structure throughout the month. Lanterns are also on display at the Bongeunsa temple in Gangnam and in Cheonggyecheon, where illuminated lanterns float down the stream at night through May 26.

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Here are some wise words from Larva, Korea’s favorite cartoon about poop and slugs. SCREAMfmLondon

After the parade, attendees gathered in Gwanghwamun Plaza at the base of the Grand Lantern for a post-parade celebration (hoehyang) featuring music and prayer. The Grand Lantern (a huge pagoda-shaped structure) is on display at the plaza from April 29 – May 26.

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At the end of the parade, everyone is invited to join in and walk behind it toward the celebration at Gwanghwamun Plaza. SCREAMfmLondon

Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2014

‘Starry Eyes’
Release Date: March 8, 2014
Director: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Starring: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller and Noah Segan
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A-

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Photo courtesy of Snowfort Pictures, Parallactic Pictures and Dark Sky Films.

This film borrows heavily from its predecessors: it’s got a bit of “Suspiria” (Alex Essoe, who stars as Sarah, even looks just like Jessica Harper) with a dash of “Eyes Wide Shut.” The body horror is exactly the same as 2013’s “Contracted,” which was itself borrowed from 2012’s “Thanatomorphose.” And yet I still really, really liked “Starry Eyes.” It follows Sarah’s struggles as a part-time waitress/aspiring actress living in Hollywood with a group of self-centered frenemies. She finally has some success at an audition run by an eerie-yet-powerful production company with strange Illuminati-esque ties that promises to “transform” her life — quite literally. “Starry Eyes” is pretty campy, and it’s great. At its core, it’s just a classic Hollywood story. How far are you willing to go for success? How much are you willing to sacrifice? How squeamish are you around maggots?

‘Oculus’
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites and Rory Cochrane
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.
Grade: D

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Photo courtesy of Relativity Media.

The best line from this movie is, “Okay, what’s more likely: that you’re misremembering events from 11 years ago, or that the mirror eats dogs?” But, of course, the mirror really does eat dogs. It also manipulates people within its range to have vivid hallucinations that eventually cause them to commit horrifying deeds. In the case of “Oculus,” Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan) is convinced that the antique mirror her father (Rory Cochrane) had in his office when she was a child used its supernatural abilities to drive him crazy enough to murder her mother (Katee Sackhoff). It’s really such a stupid premise, I started to wonder if we’ve literally made a horror movie about everything and now there’s nothing left. It would have been much more interesting if Kaylie really was remembering incorrectly and her father was just an insane murderer of his own volition, but no. It was the mirror.

‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’
Release Date: Oct. 16, 2014
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Addison Timlin, Spencer Treat Clark and Travis Tope
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for brutal violence, grisly images, strong sexual content, and language.
Grade: D

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Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures.

As a sequel/remake/ reboot of the 1976 classic slasher film, “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” had a lot of room to play around with the story and the genre, but it really dropped the ball. The original is based on the true story of a masked serial killer who terrorized the small town Texarkana in the 1940s. The 2014 film picks up the story in the modern day with a return of the Phantom Killer at an annual Halloween screening of the movie at the local drive-in theater. I love meta horror, but “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” didn’t even try to do anything interesting with this reboot. With two horror powerhouses behind the production (Ryan Murphy of American Horror Story fame and Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions), I expected something more innovative. “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” is just another straightforward slasher without any particularly exciting gory effects and the most ridiculously disappointing resolution imaginable. In fact, it was such a letdown it made me angry.

‘Horns’
Release Date: Oct. 31, 2014
Director: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple and Max Minghella
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Rating: R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use.
Grade: C

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Photo courtesy of Dimension Films and RADiUS-TWC.

The “Horns” script seemed quite true to Joe Hill’s novel, but there’s a lot going on that had to be condensed into a 120-minute film. I wish “Horns” had focused on the areas in which it excelled: black horror-comedy and religious satire. Unfortunately, it had to take a lot of time for scene-setting flashbacks, character-building romance and, y’know, plot-progressing twists and turns. It centers on Ig Perrish (played by Daniel Radcliffe, whom I love), a social pariah who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend Merrin (played by Juno Temple, whom I love). One day, he wakes up with horns sprouting from his forehead and psychic abilities to draw the truth out of people, which he uses to his advantage as he seeks out Merrin’s true killer. Also he can command snakes to do his bidding. There’s a lot going on, most of which is at least entertaining. But I really am sick of the compulsory rape scene in every horror movie.

Capsule drama reviews: My Love From Another Star, etc.

‘My Love From Another Star’ (aka ‘You Who Came From the Stars’)
Starring: Jun Ji-hyun, Kim Soo-hyun and Park Hae-jin
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama, Sci-fi
Episodes: 21

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Photo courtesy of HB Entertainment.

I laughed hysterically. I cried uncontrollably. I craved chicken and beer. “My Love From Another Star” has been my favorite drama to date.

The show is about Cheon Song-yi, a down-on-her-luck movie star, and her next door neighbor, Do Min-joon, the 400-year-old alien who falls in love with her just months before he’s finally due to return to his home planet. This is a great example of how excellent a show can be when it centers on a fully-realized female character. Song-yi has been my favorite drama heroine to date — she is funny, exuberant, glamorous, sympathetic. She has so much personality, and she’s so adorable, it’s very hard not to fall in love with her and consider giving up your home planet. I understand completely.

Everything about “My Love From Another Star” is actually pretty great. Pretty stellar, as it were. The fashion, the cinematography, the script, etc. The supporting characters are also notable — particularly Shin Sung-rok as the cartoonishly evil villain Jae-kyung and Park Hae-jin as the rejected suitor Hwi-kyung, who recovers gracefully and proves to be a real friend and a stand-up guy in general. This show is fantastic.

‘Bungee Jumping of Their Own’
Release Date:
Feb. 2, 2001
Director: Kim Dae-seung
Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Lee Eun-ju and Yeo Hyun-soo
Genre: Romance, Drama
Rating: Not Rated

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Photo courtesy of Cineclick Asia.

This movie really weirded me out. And it’s not particularly easy to weird me out.

It begins with the love story of In-woo and Tae-hee, who meet at university and quickly become inseparable — until Tae-hee is killed in a car accident. In-woo moves on with his life, marries, has a baby, and becomes a high school teacher, which is working out well for him until he becomes convinced that Tae-hee has been reincarnated as one of the underage students in his class. From there, the movie becomes wholly unsettling as In-woo creepily grooms the boy, calls him up the middle of the night, and tries to convince him that they’re soulmates.

It’s, at least, an interesting challenge of gender and heteronormativity springing from a religious standpoint, but “Bungee Jumping of Their Own” is very uncomfortable to watch. And it ends with the unpleasant message that it’s kind of romantic to kidnap a child that reminds you of your dead ex-lover. I can’t really hang with that.

‘Answer Me 1997’ (aka ‘Reply 1997’)
Starring:
Jung Eun-ji, Seo In-guk and Song Jong-ho
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 16

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Photo courtesy of tvN.

Unfortunately for me, the vast majority of the in-jokes, pop culture references and celebrity cameos that make “Answer Me 1997” so amusing were pretty lost on me. Much more entertaining if you have a basic understanding of Korean life in the 1990s. However, I still enjoyed the show as a quick and interesting coming-of-age story about a group of high school friends.

The show is framed with the story of Shi-won, a 30-something writer, attending a high school reunion and reminiscing with her friends and former classmates about growing up in the ‘90s. She reveals that she is now married and pregnant, but leaves the identity of her husband open for interpretation as the narrative bounces back and forth between the present day and her final year of high school in Busan.

“Answer Me 1997” is the most down-to-earth drama I’ve watched so far. It’s honest and candid about premarital sex, homosexuality, erotic fanfiction about boybands… All the real issues that teens deal with every day. The pacing is great, the throwbacks to the ‘90s are refreshing, and the teenagers are really accurately depicted. Also unique is the setting in Busan and the distinction made between hailing from a big city like Seoul and growing up anywhere else in the country.

‘Shut Up Flower Boy Band’
Starring:
Sung Joon, Jo Bo-ah and Lee Hyun-jae
Genre: Romance
Episodes: 16

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Photo courtesy of tvN.

While I’m cruising around, living my life, I keep wondering what that song I always have stuck in my head is. Turns out it’s “Jaywalking,” the song that propels Eye Candy to fame in “Shut Up Flower Boy Band.” Damn, that’s an unexpectedly good song — super catchy hook, rhythmic back beat, rough rock ‘n roll guitar, and the romantic lyrics Byung-hee wrote about his muse before his untimely death at the hands of the high school bullies.

“Shut Up Flower Boy Band” follows the five-piece band of outcasts as they pursue their dreams of sharing Byung-hee’s music with the world. Will girls and money tear the band apart? Will they ever get through a live performance without something chaotic happening halfway through the single? Only time will tell!

Both the music and the aesthetic are consistently enticing. The boys are all pretty compelling individual characters, especially Do-il (the mysterious, long-haired drummer who is the son of a mobster and is ridiculously good-looking), Hyun-soo (the tormented guitarist, played by Kim Myung-soo from Infinite), and Ji-hyuk (the newly-appointed lead singer who takes Byung-hee’s place as the group’s leader). Less compelling is Jo Bo-ah as Soo-ah, Ji-hyuk’s love interest/Eye Candy’s general muse. But the unconventional music drama and the cute rocker boys more than make this show worth watching.

Album review: Epik High, ‘Shoebox’

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Photo courtesy of YG Entertainment.

“Shoebox” is Epik High’s eighth studio album since its inception in 2003. The trio, comprised of Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz, returned from serving their mandatory years in the military to release “99” (a nod to the 99 percent) in 2012. Which isn’t that great of an album. “Shoebox,” on the other hand, is a real return to form for the killer alternative rap group.

So, let’s talk about “Born Hater.”

“Born Hater” is a masterpiece. (“Dali, Van, Picasso, / I’m Velazquez, Millet, El fuckin’ Greco,” as Tablo puts it.) The song features powerful rappers from three different generations of Korean rap: the well-established Verbal Jint, the second generation Beenzino, and the up-and-coming B.I., Mino and Bobby. Mino, a rapper from the boyband WINNER, has a standout verse about the criticism he’s drawn for being signed to the YG Entertainment label.

The song’s accompanying vertical music video uses the Seven Deadly Sins as a theme, and it’s all brilliant. “Born Hater” is a much-hyped song, but it’s totally worthy of all the praise. It’s a sick, stripped-down rap jam in its rawest form.

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Epik High’s “Shoebox.” Photo courtesy of YG Entertainment.

The whole album gives off a vibe reminiscent of the authenticity and awareness of early ‘90s hip-hop with a modern, cutting-edge twist. The songs are substantial, touching on issues such as religion in “Amor Fati,” which opens with Tablo declaring “God doesn’t love me,” and contains the refrain “I believe in myself, / I believe in the sweat on my hands, / I believe in my heart, / I believe in love, / But they call me a non-believer.”

A few simpler, straight-up party jams include “Burj Khalifa” and “Life is Good.” The former features Yankie of TBNY and Gaeko of Dynamic Duo; it has a strong beat and name-drops a lot of drugs. What more do you need in a party anthem? Layered over this, a robotic female voice echoes, “My high is epic.”

As for the slower tracks, “Spoiler” is a gorgeous, broken-hearted ballad, and the cover of Taeyang’s “Eyes, Nose, Lips” is a fabulous spin on the original. Tablo really elevates the song: the Epik High version is significantly less drippy than Taeyang’s without losing the emotional impact and is, thereby, much better. The climax of the song comes toward the end, when Taeyang harmonizes with Tablo’s lower-pitched vocals, and it really brings the track together.

Taeyang (of Big Bang fame) is also featured on “Rich” and provides some uncredited background vocals for “Amor Fati.” “Rich” is another great track — a play on Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal “C.R.E.A.M.” In the song’s hook, Taeyang sings, “I wish, I wish, I wish I was rich. / My drive rules everything around me.”

There is so much variation on “Shoebox” and so many different featured artists, but it’s still such a cohesive album that reinforces Epik High’s place in hip-hop. Excellent release.

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Shoebox
Release Date: Oct. 21
Genre: Hip-hop, Rap
Grade: A-

Live: Miley Cyrus Bangerz Tour

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Miley Cyrus performs “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” with Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips at the Staples Center in February. SCREAMfmLondon

On May 6, Miley Cyrus plans to finally return to the stage, resuming her world tour in London after rescheduling an Amsterdam concert date and postponing the final leg of her US tour. The final US dates of the Bangerz Tour were pushed back until August, when Miley will perform nine additional concerts in the Eastern part of the states.

Earlier in April, Miley faced some considerable setbacks when her beloved dog died, causing her to have a pretty heartbreaking public meltdown. Shortly thereafter, the medication she was taking for a sinus infection caused a severe allergic reaction, and she had to be hospitalized for many days.

It’s a bummer to see her slowed down when the Bangerz Tour began with such incredible forward momentum.

I attended one of the first Bangerz Tour dates on Feb. 22 at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. It was a truly impressive spectacle with enough costume changes, larger-than-life props and choreographed dance routines to make your head spin, really.

Anchored by Miley’s strong stage presence, her concerts are the perfect blend of both polished performance and off-the-cuff spontaneity. I was expecting some zaniness — I knew that she would enter via her trademark tongue-slide protruding from a giant projection of her own face, for example. She delivered zaniness and then some: she pretended to fellate a dancer dressed as Bill Clinton during “Party in the USA” and leaned off the stage to initiate a kiss with Katy Perry, who was in the audience, during “Adore You.”

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Protesters outside of the Bangerz Tour at the Staples Center. SCREAMfmLondon

About halfway through the concert, Miley migrated to another stage at the back of the venue, where a band was set up to play an unplugged cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” with her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, cheering and proudly clapping along from a few feet behind her. Not long after, Miley introduced Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, who approached the stage carrying large silver balloons in the shape of the words “FUCK YEAH” and dressed in a red cape, respectively.

Together, they performed an amazing cover of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” and then they decided that they were drunk enough to do it a second time — so they did. And it was awesome.

The acoustic set, the old-school country and the unexpected cover songs are great elements of the Bangerz Tour. It’s the perfect way to remind the audience that Miley Cyrus isn’t all spectacle. She’s smart.

There is no doubt in my mind that Miley’s entire rebranding has been carefully planned from the moment the very first video of her twerking in a unicorn suit went viral in March of 2013. It’s kind of genius. And it’s been executed incredibly well. And, best of all, Miley has the talent and personality to back it up.

Ultimately, I am really rooting for her. Not only do I love her ability to get under the skin of the general public, but I am impressed with her in-your-face feminism, musical talent and down-to-earth attitude on- and off-stage. Of course, there are large elements of the media she’s produced that are problematic and worthy of criticism. But I think the “Bangerz” era is an important one in the evolution of pop music, and I would love to see her continue to grow and succeed.

Outside of the venue, middle-aged men with potbellies and bucket hats smugly unfurled signs that read “SMILEY VIRUS WILL WRECK YOUR LIFE” and “SLUTS, ETC. TRUST CHRIST OR END IN HELL!” One wore a shirt proclaiming him “Holygound Security” and shouted through a megaphone at the teenage girls walking past him that they were prostitutes and whores.

Somebody’s got to stand up to those guys.

Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2013

‘Resolution’
Release Date: Jan. 25, 2013
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran and Zahn McClarnon
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

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Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film and Cinedigm.

Well, “Resolution” starts out with Michael (Peter Cilella) handcuffing his junkie buddy, Chris (Vinny Curran), to a pipe inside a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere in an attempt to get him sober. What could go wrong? The film is a pleasant surprise, though. As it progresses, it reveals itself to be a slow-paced psychological thriller that comments on storytelling and the horror genre itself. It’s like a low-budget take on the ideas explored in 2012’s “Cabin in the Woods,” although it’s definitely not as well-acted nor as tongue-in-cheek hilarious as its predecessor. Curran, in particular, does a really subpar job portraying his drug-addicted character. On the other hand, “Resolution” is a lot more actually menacing and scary than “Cabin in the Woods,” and its final 30 minutes are tense and unpredictable.

‘Stitches’
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Director: Conor McMahon
Starring: Ross Noble, Gemma-Leah Devereux and Tommy Knight
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, sexual content, language, drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Grade: C-

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Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group and Irish Film Board.

This is a really goofy premise, so stay with me: “Stitches” is an Irish horror-comedy about a clown who is accidentally killed at a child’s birthday party and is resurrected six years later to exact his revenge on the kids who were there. It’s an attempt at the hilariously over-the-top gore perfected in movies such as the “Leprechaun” franchise or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” but it isn’t executed as well. The cartoonish special effects aren’t too impressive, and it ends up being neither scary nor really funny (although there are some laughs). Considering there’s a Satanic ritual performed by clowns in the graveyard and an obsessive occult research segment on the history of clowns, “Stitches” should have been way more amusing. But there’s probably still a market for this. I’m not sure who those people would be, but they’re out there.

‘Berberian Sound Studio’
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco and Antonio Mancino
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B

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Photo courtesy of Warp X and Illumination Films.

The film-within-a-film technique makes “Berberian Sound Studio” a creepy, slow-moving, atmospheric piece of surrealist cinema. The story follows British foley artist Gilderoy (Toby Jones) as he arrives on set in Italy to work on mixing sounds for director Giancarlo Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) latest giallo flick. Santini’s film is an Argento-esque horror story (although he refuses to refer to it as such) about a girls’ school cursed by witches, requiring Gilderoy and crew to create many creative sound effects in the studio. This is fascinating to watch, although potentially boring for American audiences. “Berberian Sound Studio” then takes a “Mulholland Drive”-style abrupt left turn into the realm of the absurd about three-quarters of the way through, as Gilderoy grows increasingly discomforted by the nature of the film and the working environment. The final act is eerie and tense, although this film is a lot more understated and never becomes truly “horror.”

‘We Are What We Are’
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2013
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner and Bill Sage
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violence, bloody images, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Grade: B-

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Photo courtesy of Entertainment One.

“We Are What We Are” is a thoughtful, beautifully-shot creepy thriller, but a lot of plot holes make it less enjoyable. The film (a remake of the 2010 Mexican horror film of the same name, although several key elements are different) focuses on the reclusive Parkers — a family of urban cannibals — following the death of Emma Parker (Kassie DePaiva), the mother of three children. The film is clearly supposed to make comment on religious fervor, patriarchal traditions and family bonds, but it seems like a lot of this is lost in translation. The influence of 2011’s excellent “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” about a woman escaping from the clutches of an oppressive cult, is extremely evident, but “We Are What We Are” never seems as believable. Luckily, the acting is strong from all three leads, the cinematography is attractive, and super blonde children are inherently disturbing. I only wish as much attention to detail had been paid to the screenwriting as was paid to the look of the film.