“Every family has a secret recipe” – WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (Somos lo que hay), Grau, 2010.

This Mexican film (in Spanish) has it all when it comes to Cannibal Studies. When we discuss cannibalism, we think of sacrificial rituals, or people starving, or maybe just psychogenic appetites – some inner appetite that can only be satiated with human flesh. In most cannibal films, the cannibals are minor personalities, indistinct threats to the protagonist, not the main characters.

Welcome to We Are What We Are. A family of cannibals survive on human flesh, which is harvested by the father in bloody ritual ceremonies. When Dad dies, how are they to carry on? This is a family much like the one in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: poor, disenfranchised, living on the edge of a consumer society from which they seem excluded.

Shot in Mexico city, the film reflects the struggle for survival in what some call a dog-eat-dog world, which of course is far more accurately a human-eat-human world, since we are often far nicer to dogs than to each other.

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Yep, and the boys, Alfredo and his younger, vicious brother Julián, have been evicted from their market stall because Dad didn’t pay the rent. He was a watchmaker by trade, and also a procurer of human flesh. Kept the family fed. No more though. The boys have to take over.

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Meanwhile, the coroner calls in the police. He has found something interesting in Dad’s stomach.

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The police are not interested though. They don’t bother with cold cases. Or hot ones either, apparently. The coroner tells them

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“In the reports, they blame the rats, but what about the two-legged kind?”

The boys head to the bridge, where the homeless children live. Self-service and easy to carry. This is not too far-fetched – there are many reports of death squads picking up kids and turning them over to drug cartels. But these boys have a different purpose, and they are not very good at it – the kids fight them off.

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A cannibal fail. Their mother is furious because they put the family at risk. “Next we start trembling, because we’re going to die.”

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Luckily, Sabina, the sister, has an idea.

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Mexico City is presented as corrupt, steamy and full of predators. No cannibal need go hungry, with the streets full of homeless children and prostitutes. But these aren’t any old hungry or depraved cannibals (although they’re getting there fast) – they have a ritual, and prostitutes apparently just won’t do, so Mum beats her to death with a shovel.

The poor and desperate usually stalk their own. The family has tried the outcast children under the bridge, then the vulnerable prostitutes; now Alfredo follows a group of young gays to an underground club and picks up a young man, who tells him, without irony,

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Alfredo is devastated by his first gay kiss. Well, we knew, he is so sensitive, while Julián is the one filled with carnivorous virility, and is quite straight, although incestuously drawn to his sister.

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All taboos are out on the table here, just like the prostitute’s corpse.

Mother and Julián take the prostitute’s body back to the street where they found her, and Mum abuses the girls for wanting to fuck her sons.

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On the hierarchy of monsters, she seems to consider cannibals rather higher than whores.

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Alfredo brings his new boyfriend home, for dinner, as it were. But Julián is not impressed. Nor is Mum, prompting Alfredo to ask why she hates him,

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Is he talking gay or cannibal? Maybe the status of outcast is enough. You are considered less than human, and so can be hunted, killed, eaten.

Mum has brought another bloke home, and they kill him after a struggle. But Alfredo’s boyfriend, Gustavo has escaped, and found the police:

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Meanwhile, the prostitutes are finding ways to motivate the cops to look into the murder of their colleague.

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Everyone is eating everyone in this world. Mum and sister are starting “the ritual” with the corpse, which involves candles, meat hooks and sharp knives. Juicy crunching sounds, as they pull the carcass apart. Look, if this troubles you, don’t ever go into a butcher shop – the actions and sounds are the same. Except for the munching on raw flesh bit maybe.

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OK, enough spoilers. It is a horror movie, so the rules say the monster must die, with the opportunity for resurrection (in case of a sequel). And in cannibal movies, there is the Wendigo factor: the bite of the cannibal turns the victim into a cannibal, much like the vampire legends.

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Except there really are cannibals in our world, and they are not always eating flesh. There are many ways of eating the outcast.

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The critics gave it 72% on Rotten Tomatoes, although the viewers were less generous.

The Los Angeles Times said it was

An unexpectedly rich exploration of family bonds, blood rituals and the oftentimes zombie-like desire to assume the roles proscribed to each of us.

The New York Post was similarly insightful

Grau’s script is intelligent, and it has something to say about family and social dysfunction. You just might want to skip meat for a few days.

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Next week: the season finale of HANNIBAL SEASON 2. “Everybody’s settling in for dinner”.

“I know what monsters are”: HANNIBAL Season 1 Episode 9 (Fuller, 2013)

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This episode is named “TROU NORMAND”, which is a shot of liquor, usually Calvados, a potent apple liqueur from Normandy, served between courses of a particularly heavy meal. And yes, the first eight episodes of Season 1 were heavy going, and we know that the main course is yet to be served.

In this one, the FBI team are investigating a totem pole made of dead people in West Virginia. The bodies are carefully coiled together, making a puzzle for the investigators.

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Will does his reenactment, then blinks and suddenly he is in Hannibal’s waiting room. He knows then that he is in trouble – the sleepwalking, the hallucinations and now he’s disassociating, and losing time. He has just driven 3 ½ hours from the crime scene to Hannibal’s office with no memory of it at all. Oh yes, he’s a sick puppy. Hannibal’s diagnosis is interesting:

Hannibal also summarises why we care about people we know and usually don’t give a damn about anyone else:

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“What if you lose time and hurt yourself? Or someone else?” Hannibal is planting the seed. Will may be capable of – anything.

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Will apologises to Jack for disappearing from the crime scene, but Jack hasn’t noticed anything wrong. Is there something wrong? No, Will grins, everything’s fine. No problems.

Abigail Hobbes is also in trouble. She is having nightmares where her father tells her he killed all those girls (in the first episode) so he wouldn’t have to kill her. But her support group morphs into those very girls, all saying “he should have killed you, so he wouldn’t have killed me”.

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Then Freddie Lounds tells her that she is broke – the families of those girls are suing her father’s estate, and she won’t inherit a thing. She needs to write a book, with Freddie’s help of course. Will and Hannibal try to talk her out of it, but she wants to prove her innocence.

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Will is getting more and more unstable. He is lecturing on the totem pole murders, but it turns out he is addressing an empty lecture theatre. Alana finds him there, tells him she can’t get involved with him:

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Meanwhile, the FBI have found the body of the boy Abigail gutted and Hannibal helped her hide in episode 3. Jack wants to put her in the room to identify the corpse because he still suspects Abigail of the murder/s. Alana and Will are dead against causing her more trauma. Hannibal? Well, he is into growth and becoming, and for this he puts people in difficult positions:

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But Hannibal is putting his own pressure on Abigail. He tells her that he is concerned that her book, and her digging up the body, all put him in danger. He insists that he must be able to trust her. Will realises that she killed the boy, and Hannibal admits he knew, because he helped her hide the body. Is Will going to report them to Jack? Well, no, because Hannibal talks him out of it:

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Now Hannibal has Will where he wants him – legally compromised, lying to Jack, and a partner – at least in co-parenting.

Hannibal is putting on one of his fine feasts for – yes – Freddie Lounds, with Will and Abigail eating various bloody concoctions. But Freddie has thrown him, by announcing she is a vegetarian! Hannibal rises to the occasion and prepares the finest salad she has ever tasted. Despite Will’s aggressive sarcasm and Abigail’s defiance, Hannibal manages to get them to agree: we’re all doing this to protect Abigail.

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After dinner, Hannibal washes and Abigail dries, and she finally confesses that she did help her father – she would befriend girls that looked like her and find out where they lived, so that he would kill them, instead of her.

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Hannibal comforts her:

Now she is totally in his hegemonic care, Will is a co-conspirator and co-parent, and Hannibal has a friend, and a family.

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This is his design.

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