Tigers Are Not Afraid (Movie Review)

Tigers Are Not Afraid (Movie Review)

The stressors that humanity face from day to day are not uniform throughout the world. By and large, the flotsam and jetsam American does not have to worry about their entire town being vaporized by a missile or as in Issa Lopez’s Tigers Are Not Afraid, originally titled Vuelven, having their family violently stripped from them. Waking up to see another day is almost a burden to some Americans, but for the people depicted in Lopez’s Mexico, let alone many other countries of the global community, waking up to see another day is a luxury afforded only to the lucky.

Tigers Are Not Afraid still.

Currently taking the festival circuit by storm, production company Filmadora Nacional’s Tigers Are Not Afraid debuted on September 24, 2017 to a rapt audience at FantasticFest in Austin, Texas and has received near-unanimous praise since. Mostly recently making its New England premiere on Sunday, March, 25, 2018 at The Boston Underground Film Festival, Director Issa López (Casi divas 2008, Todo Mal 2018), heretofore mainly a Comedy director, turns starkly, but gracefully on her heel to take the Fantasy-Horror genre by the horns and does so in such a way that creative luminaries such as Guillermo Del Toro and Stephen King have rightfully and enthusiastically taken notice.

The story shadows a small band of prepubescent street urchins forced into a hardscrabble life by the tornadic wake of a Cartel sect known as “Los Huascas.” When the young pobrecitos strike back against Los Huascas, they are forced out of their depth and on the run through the (literally) haunted streets of Anytown, Mexico where the only way forward is through showers of gunfire.

Led by the broody and gallant “El Shine” (Juan Ramón López in his debut) and sweetly naïve Estrella (Paola Lara in her debut), the group escapes from scrape after scrape with low level sicarios (cartel members), while in addition, Estrella faces the city’s innumerable ghostly body count of those laid low by Los Huascas. Throughout the film, they maintain an intrinsic, playfulness that sustains and emboldens them, but by and by, the grip on that levity loosens and they are behooved to face the leader of their assailants, the monstrous “El Chino” (Tenoch Huerta: Get The Gringo 2012, Mozart In The Jungle series).

Tigers Are Not Afraid still.

The cast is made up of children with little-to-no experience, but the raw talent here is truly remarkable. Young López portrays “El Shine” as a very dark, angry, and resourceful boy, almost as if he was that child. There is an uncanny knowledge in his performance that smacks distinctly of some of the world’s great method actors. Lara in her role as Estrella shows incredible talent as she takes her character in dynamic fashion from a shy, innocent lamb to a sensitive, cunning wolfmother. It requires both Shine and Estrella’s personalities (with help from their friends) to take on Huerta’s irascible and maniacally duplicitous “El Chino.” Huerta plays “El Chino” just as you would expect a Cartel underboss to be: dead-eyed and calm on the surface, but with a Vesuvian anger just beneath.

Tigers Are Not Afraid utilizes various special effects that, at times, seem cartoonish; in any other film, they would not work. However, it is very easy to reconcile these clumsy graphic effects with exactly the sort of precocious mind required to imagine them. It does not matter that the effects are not photo-realistic, because the sustenance these children need comes from whatever strikes their fancy. If they want to imagine a 24-karat gold python sliding off a bejeweled cartel pistol, it is from their perspective. In the same way one wouldn’t critique a child’s refrigerator drawing on the same scale as a Klimt painting, it is foolish to put that golden serpent alongside Spielberg-level effects because of the puerile mind it is slithering out of.

War-ravaged areas like Mexico and much of the middle east are fertile breeding grounds for whimsy. In these areas, there is so much hurt and loss that the only way to get yourself out of bed – if you should be so lucky to have one – is to create a place in dreams and daydreams where nothing hurts and everything you need is at your fingertips. Millions of people, globally, are under the immovable finger of tyranny and violence and the prospect of freeing themselves from this anguish by sheer will or personal expense is often unfathomable, especially for a child; it is never as simple as, “just move away.”

Tigers Are Not Afraid still.

Shine, Estrella, and their gang choose to retreat into the relative safety of their minds and create boundless utopias there – new and pleasant fairy-tale skins to cover the ugliness in their world. In a 2007 interview, Mexican Director Guillermo Del Toro expounded on his use of fairy tale aspects in his work. He said, “Originally [fairy tales] were created to tackle inner struggles in the outside… war is such an overwhelming reality that I wanted to situate a fairy tale universe within the most harrowing context I could find.

Perhaps that is why so many Fantasy and Animated films of the recent years have come from embattled areas: the children of these conflicts are growing up and committing the imaginations they cultivated out of necessity to celluloid.

For its beautiful, tragic, and timely story, its raw yet deft performances, and an inventiveness that can only come from desperation or a knowledge thereof, CrypticRock awards Tigers Are Not Afraid all 5 out of a possible 5 stars.

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Connor Warriner
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Connor Warriner is a Chicago-based graphic designer, film editor, photographer, chef, and fledgling guitarist. Enjoys strawberry shakes and riding a skateboard. Hates olives and when people leave without saying goodbye.

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