Tigers Are Not Afraid
tigers are not afraid | issa lopez | paola lara | juan ramon lopez | hanssel casillas | fantasy | mystery | mexico | ghost | ghosts | rodrigo cortes | ianis guerrero | tenoch huerta | gothic | haunted | haunting | fairy tale
Film: Tigers Are Not Afraid (Vuelven)
Director: Issa López
Writer: Issa López
Starring: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López and Hanssel Casillas
This film is intriguing for me, because I remember hearing about it the year prior to it being released in the United States as being one of the best films on the festival run. Those that got to see it were speaking very highly of it and it had me intrigued. When it finally was getting its release and I saw my theater was going to show it, I made it a point to see. Then gave it a second watch for a horror movie challenge I’m doing as a bonus watch and now a third time for the Podcast Under the Stairs’ Summer Series. The synopsis is a dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war.
As the synopsis states, we are given a bit of background information about the effects of the war on drugs and how many people are killed as well as go missing because of it. The data they’re not capturing are the children that are left behind.
What I really like here though is that we follow two characters. One of them is Estrella (Paola Lara) who is going to a nice school. Her teacher is asking the class what some of the popular characters in fairy tales are. They’re tasked creating their own kind of fairy tale using what was named off. This comes to an end though when gang war flares up and shooting happens right outside their walls. The teacher gives Estrella three pieces of chalk and tells her she can make three wishes. We then see that the school is closed indefinitely.
The other character is El Shine (Juan Ramón López). He is an orphan that is looking after three other children. We see him as he robs Caco (Ianis Guerrero) while he is urinating. This older guy is also drunk. El Shine takes his phone as well as an ornate handgun. Everything that he must do is wearing on him for a kid his age. He also has a burn on the side of his face.
All the while there is a man named El Chino (Tenoch Huerta). He is running for office in the area and his advertisements make him out to be a great man. There are also a lot of these posters and television commercials. We learn as the film progresses though, he might be mixed up with a cult like gang that does ritualistic sacrifices and are heavy in the drug trade. It seems to be a rumor in the area and even on the news. There just doesn’t seem to be proof.
When Estrella returns home from school, her mother is missing. She hangs around, hoping that she comes back. Her first wish is for her back and we see an entity appear behind her, with her mother’s voice. El Shine breaks into her house and Estrella stops him from taking things. She knows that she can’t stay there though and seeks him out as well as his gang. The problem though is that Caco’s gang is after him, wanting the phone back. There’s something on this phone that is important and could cause problems for powerful people in the area. There are also supernatural entities following Estrella, but she might not be their target.
Now I tried my best to not spoil anything about the film, but to just give the basic premise here. I think this is a film that needs to be experienced. It also has an interesting set up if I’m going to be perfectly honest. Early on, I wasn’t sure if this was horror. I’ve heard it talked about on podcasts so I knew that it was, but it grows into it and I have to say that I really dug that. There’s also a good social commentary here which is my wheelhouse.
The first thing that I want to cover is the state of those living in this area of the movie. As an American, I know that the war on drugs is something that is hurting the country. I’m not saying that drugs should be freely bought, sold and used, but we have too harsh of punishments that don’t necessarily fit the crimes. The problem though becomes we create organized crime as well. Moving this idea, down in Mexico where this is taking place. This war has created the criminal organization that is running rampant and leaving these poor children orphans. It is sad to see them fight for survival. I do want to throw in that I love the gang is a satanic group, because that terrifies me. This is like the film Borderlands that came out some time ago, as they were loosely based on a real cartel working near the US/Mexico border. Upon this most recent reviewing, I’m not convinced they are satanic. With people disappearing and things done to them, this is how the children are justifying it to themselves and explaining what his happening.
Something else about this, I got heavy vibes from writer/director Issa López of Guillermo Del Toro. I think she nailed the dark fairy tale feeling much like he can in this movie. This aspect is introduced from the first scene, but we hear stories being told throughout. I like the parallels from them to what is really happening. I like that we never are given a full explanation if the supernatural things that Estrella is seeing or if they’re just in her head. I personally fall into the camp that they are real and that it is punishment for the evil things that are being done. It is taking a gothic story and putting it into a modern world. The ghosts aren’t the villains. They’re scary, but they can’t necessarily help that. They want their revenge and they are coming to Estrella to make it happen. It could be read the other way as well though.
The movie is also paced in a way where it doesn’t get boring. It has a low running time around 83 minutes and it flies by. I think part of that is that we have interesting characters and how things are introduced make sense. Even before the possible supernatural things start to happen, it has a bleak feel that was depressing. That worked for me. I like the ending, except I’m not completely sure I get the final image. I have two possible theories that could work.
As for the acting, I had no issues which is crazy with having both leads being children. Lara has that look of someone who has had a normal life and then it all gets turned on its head. She isn’t ready for the world like El Shine. What happens with the wishes is interesting and leads this group down a scary path. It gives that ‘be careful what you wish for’ feel. López was also good. He just looks like the world has beaten him down and I felt horrible. He lashes out, but I think a lot of that is a self-defense mechanism out of fear of opening. He has these burn scars which make him self-conscious. I would say the rest of the kids in the group worked. Guerrero as Caco and Huerta as El Chino were solid as our villains with the rest of the cast rounding out this out for what was needed.
Effects are something that I was blown away by if I’m honest. There are graffiti drawings that come to life and there’s even a moment where a stuffed animal tiger does as well. It surprised me that both were CGI but looked so real. I would say that the practical effects we got also look good. There’s a little bit of blood that looks solid and some of the wounds as well. The cinematography is also beautiful which I enjoyed.
The last thing to cover would be the sound design. The overall soundtrack I thought fit for what was needed, but it didn’t necessarily stand out. It didn’t take me out of the film, which is a bigger issue for me. What I like though is the sound design of the entities that Estrella is hearing. It is whispers and is quite creepy, but it is taking on the sound of the mother. That is unnerving if I’m honest. There’s also voice-over narration to correlate this fairy tale with what we see on the screen. We also hear things from a cellphone that adds a layer for me.
Now with that said, I came into this film with high expectations since I heard so many people talking about how good it was. I tried to not let that effect me, but I have to say that I ended up loving this movie. It has such a haunting story of these children trying to make their way in a scary place to grow up. They don’t have a safe place and with this gang around, it is no way to live. I like the dark fairy tale aspect to the movie and how bleak it is. I believe the acting of these children is great. There’s a low running time, so it never gets boring or wastes any time in my opinion. This is a rare case where the CGI looked great and I was blown away by it, with good practical effects as well. The sound design was good, it fit for what was needed and was used in the final sequence. This was a contender for my top horror film of the year. It was in my top 5 for sure. I would highly recommend this for horror and non-horror fans. I will warn you though, this is from Mexico, so I had to watch it with subtitles on. If that’s an issue, you’re missing out, but keep that in mind. There was a dubbed version on the DVD that I have for this.
My Rating: 10 out of 10