An extremely well-made horror film from Denmark, What We Become (original title: Sorgenfri) examines the churning emotional dynamics of a nuclear family when they are placed under extreme -- some might even call it apocalyptic -- stress.
Mother Pernille (Mille Dinesen) and father Dino (Troels Lyby) live with their two children in Sorgenfri, a leafy suburban neighborhood just north of Copenhagen. While their youngest, a young girl, is sweet and obedient, Gustav (Benjamin Engell), their older child, is in the 'teenage rebellion' period of his life; nothing violent, just disagreeable. But even he is cheered up when he sees a pretty girl about his age move in with her family nearby.
Besides these minor issues, what could go wrong? It's summer and the living is easy. And then everything begins to turn topsy-turvy. A mysterious virus is responsible for two deaths, and then quickly begins to spread. The nature of the virus is not revealed, though television reports indicate the government is concerned. More odd things begin to happen in Sorgenfri, and then the neighborhood is sealed off, and then the residents are told to stay inside.
And then any residents who attempt to flee are shot by the military forces that have moved in. And then armed government workers arrive to seal up all the houses, and then the food supply begins to dwindle, and basic services are cut off. And then the days and weeks go by, and no cure is found for the mysterious virus. Is the government telling the truth? What is being done to save the people who live in Sorgenfri?
Horror movie veterans will sniff out the apocalyptic threat early on and, truth be told, nothing much about that threat is outstandingly new, though writer/director Bo Mikkelsen adds in a few smart new wrinkles to otherwise familiar genre territory. Instead, what makes What We Become taste like a strong cup of good coffee is that the family members are well-drawn individuals, and the actors deliver authentic performances tailored to those roles.
So, mother and father get along well, the mother enforcing discipline and the father doting on his daughter. They're both trying to exercise patience with Gustav, who has tired of their parental restrictions. Both parents want to enjoy a happy family life, while Gustav wants to break free and start his own life. When he spies the lovely new neighbor Sonja (Marie Hammer Boda), he receives further impetus to act on his own judgment.
Later, when things get crazier, in line with genre conventions, the story takes off based on the characters that have already been developed. That gives everything that happens a greater basis in the reality of the characters, resulting in greater tension, even though we suspect that mankind itself may be doomed.
What We Become is surprisingly compelling, not necessarily because of what happens but because of how it happens. It's the kind of noir-ish horror that is rapidly becoming extinct.