Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)

When I saw the synopsis for this movie, my mind leapt back to a fascinating article I read a long time ago (the article came out in 1997 but I think I read it later). The article (linked here) was about how Miami homeless children had constructed their own folklore from the scraps of information they got on the streets. A mix of Christian mythology and pop culture, the folklore was well-circulated among the youngest of the homeless population. Their take on things is that God had fled Heaven due to a demon attack, leaving his angels to combat the demons on their own. The demons had found pathways from Heaven to Earth and the Angels had been forced to follow to keep the battle going. The tale mirrors life on the streets for a homeless child. Everything is dangerous and, since you rarely have a home to retreat to, you are stuck outside when late night violence and crime might happen. It helps explain things around them as they travel through an uncertain and chaotic world.

There are two chief figures in this unique folklore. The first is a demon that prowls the streets that even the Devil himself is afraid of. She goes by two names you may be familiar with. She is Bloody Mary who is also known as La Llorona south of the border. Her eyeless face leaks bloody or black tears. She feeds on the terror of children. She delights in the senseless death of children. If you see her, she has already marked you for death. The other figure is an angel named The Blue Lady who is an ally to children. She has blue skin and lives in the ocean from which she keeps up the struggle against the demons. If you know her secret name, she will protect you and your friends from the bullets of a drive by shooting, demons, and anything under the sun. She gives hope to the children by telling them to “Hold On”. It is things like this that give these kids the spark that keeps them going some nights. It is a fascinating bit of anthropology and I love it.

The first thing I noticed was the grime over everything, even the supposedly clean parts. The movie takes place in Mexico in the crossfire of the drug cartel wars where law enforcement holds little power. The movie follows a group of kids just trying to survive what feels like a Mad Max wasteland. Along the way, they are helped by ghostly horror/fantasy elements in great bits of magical realism. The five children are each played by complete newcomers with no acting training or experience. The leads, Paola Lara and Juan Ramón López definitely do a great job as the leads and older kids who find themselves responsible. The kids draw on fairytale elements and totems to protect themselves in a world that they understand too well. The acting is so good. You can feel the conviction in their voices and see it in their eyes as they believe everything that they say. It keeps them alive.

I absolutely loved the special effects in this movie. Everything is kind of subtle but what we do see looks absolutely magical. There is some really great animation, some puppetry work, and, of course, computer-generated effects. Everything is so unnerving and reminds me of Guillermo Del Toro’s effects in Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak. I loved the stylized design of a lot of it that was definitely unique. The cinematography is really good. They did not go with the usual yellow filter over everything that most movies and television shows use when things are set in Mexico. Everything looks frighteningly real. Every shot is absolutely gorgeous. Shots in darkness are dark but you can still tell exactly what is happening. The sets are absolutely well-scouted and they found (or created) some really unique crumbling architecture.

Overall, I loved the movie. While it was not a straight horror movie, it definitely had enough Horror elements to qualify for this month. The very real horrors of the drug trade are scary enough without throwing ghosts on top of everything. The movie definitely feels like a modern fairytale with all of the darkness of the original fairytales. If you can get access, definitely watch this movie.

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