Tigers Are Not Afraid
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 last year as being one of the best films that was on its festival runs. 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 be showing it, I made it a point to finally check this out. Then gave it a second watch for a horror movie challenge I’m doing as a bonus watch, but also for another category. 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. What 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 are some of the popular characters in fairy tales. 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. He takes his phone as well as an ornate handgun. Everything that he has to 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. 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.
When Estrella returns home from school, her mother is missing. She hangs around, hoping that she comes back. This is actually her first wish 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 out El Shine and his gang. The problem though is that Caco’s gang is after him, wanting the phone back. There’s much more to what is on it, but there also seems to be supernatural entities also following Estrella.
Now I tried my best to not spoil anything about the film, but to just give the basic premise here. I definitely think this is a film that needs to be experienced. It also has quite an interesting set up if I’m going to be perfectly honest. Early on, I wasn’t sure if this was actually horror. I’ve heard it talked about on podcasts so I knew that it was, but it really does grow into it and I have to say that I really dug that. There’s some really good social commentary here which is my wheelhouse.
The first thing that I want to cover with the commentary is the state of those living in this area. 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 quite similar to the film Borderlands that came out some time ago, as they were loosely based on a real cartel operating near the US/Mexico border.
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 like 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 hapepning.. 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 definitely 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 really does fly. 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. Even with this feel, I still really enjoyed it. I really 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 really had no issue which is crazy even though the two leads are both children. Lara has that look of someone who has had a pretty normal life and then it all gets turned on its head. What happens with the wishes is interesting and really kind of leads their group down a scary path. It definitely gives that became what you wish for feel. López was also really 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 up. I would say the rest of the cast definitely rounded out the movie 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 really good. There’s a little bit of blood that looks real and some of the wounds as well. The film is also shot beautifully as well.
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 actually a bigger issue for me. What I really 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 pretty unnerving if I’m honest.
Now with that said, I came into this film with pretty 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 really don’t have a safe place and with this scary gang around, it is no way to grow up. I really like the dark fairy tale aspect to the movie and how bleak it actually is. I believe the acting of these children is great. There’s a low running time, so it never gets boring or waste 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 definitely utilized in the final sequence. This is really a contender for my top horror film of the year, but most likely is a 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.
My Rating: 10 out of 10