Movie Review: “Tigers Are Not Afraid” is a Heartbreaking, Horrifying WonderOctober 10, 2018
Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2018
Horror comes in all shapes and sizes but some of the most p otent imagery to bring the genre alive is when what you’re watching could actually happen. In Issa Lopez’s Tigers Are Not Afraid, we are exposed to just that, and in this case, the horrors of children living on the street in Mexico, desperately trying to stay alive while avoiding being snatched by the local drug cartel and sold off like animals. Of course, there is a dose of supernatural here as well but I’ll get to that shortly.
We meet Estrella (Paola Lara) whose mother goes missing and she is left to fend for herself. This is a frightening enough predicament for any child but in this setting, it’s life or death. With no friends or family, she meets Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez), a local street boy who is basically in charge of/leads a gang of orphaned kids. Hiding in the shadows, rooftops, and back alleys to avoid being taken away never to return, Shine, Estrella and the rest of these kids exist day to day looking for food and trying to survive. It is only after Shine steals a cell phone from a cartel thug and at the same time Estrella starts seeing things do we begin to see where Lopez is intent on taking the story.
While Estrella begins to see the ghost of her mother, along with all the ghosts created from this cartel war, the real horror lies in the lives these children lead. Estrella and Shine are mature and wise beyond their years, forced to be mature and deal with the horrific circumstances that life has dealt them. However, they are still kids, as are those they are ‘leading’, and there are many times during the movie where this pendulum of maturity and immaturity swings back and forth, creating moments that will break your heart and make you mad as hell.
Paola Lara and Juan Ramon Lopez and incredible, grabbing every second of screen time and making it their own. Sometimes it is easy to forget they are just kids, their unflinching demeanor is almost scary, but when the masks fall off and their true ages are revealed it is sometimes very hard to watch. Issa Lopez guides these two through the framework of fantasy and reality with a steady and unwavering hand, sticking to her ideas and thank goodness, for the movie is wonderful because of her presence.
The fantasy or supernatural part of the story is good, weaving stories of tigers and visuals of dragons into the plight of the orphans with ease. The dead even have a place, not hear just for visual shock value and the ending is wonderful and horrible as we watch it unfold. Kids often look to outside help when things get tough and that is no different for this group, except they look for otherworldly to guide them in a world where there is no one they can trust but each other.
It was wondrous to watch Issa Lopez weave this story between the supernatural and real horror while child actors performed liked veterans and carried Tigers Are Not Afraid to dizzying heights. It was a magnificent, wonderful and devastating film to watch, full of sorrow and triumph in a sea of make-believe and real horrors that some children face every day.
Four and a half stars out of five
Tigers Are Not Afraid is the Opening Gala Film at Toronto After Dark Film Festival and will be showing at 7 pm on Thursday, October 11th.