BUFF 2018: TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID Is A Harrowing, Bold Film That Finds Horror In The Truth

The following film was seen courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival 2018.

The horror genre is known for being saturated with content designed to scare us. Supernatural entities, bloodthirsty monsters, and murderous psychopaths are all such common lore that it’s often surprising (and sometimes refreshing) to encounter a story with a nonfiction soul at its core. Issa López’s newest feature Tigers Are Not Afraid, or Vuelven - the films original title, is just that. Tigers Are Not Afraid is an arduous tale of a group of orphaned children living in Mexico, fighting to survive amid the ongoing drug war and the dangerous cartels that run rampant throughout the country. Lopez weaves supernatural elements through a harshly realistic setting, resulting in a film that is equal parts horrifying and heartbreaking. However, if the supernatural and fantastical elements were completely removed, Tigers would remain a horror film based on the reality of what the Mexican population must face in their day-to-day lives. I spent the duration of the film gasping and sobbing as the horror unraveled on the screen before me.

Since 2006, Mexico has been increasingly ravaged by a drug war that has resulted in 160,000 casualties, 53,000 disappearances, and has left thousands of children orphaned. Tigers tells the story of a group of children who are living in this very reality. The film opens on a classroom where children are being assigned a project where they must write their own fairytale, something that remains a dominant theme throughout the film. Mere moments later, the children are forced to drop to the floor and hide under desks as a drive-by shooter hits the school. This violent act sets the tone for the rest of the film, which continues to display horrific acts of violence as children and adults alike scramble and fight for their lives. Imagery of blood-spattered streets and kids playing games with caution tape just outside an active crime scene paint a jarring picture of what life is like for some of those living in these dangerous parts of Mexico.

After the violent opening act, a young girl named Estrella (Paola Lara) treks home following the traumatizing, yet doubtlessly typical day at school to find that her mother is not at home, and who unfortunately never returns. With thoughts of fairytales and violence swirling through Estrella’s mind, she realizes she must fend for herself in order to survive. As Estrella steps into this new and challenging way of life, she runs into a group of orphans led by a boy named Shine (Juan Ramón López) who spend their time living on rooftops and stealing food and other goods in order to survive. Shine and his friends Pop (Rodrigo Cortes), Tucsi (Hanssel Casillas), and Morro (Nery Arredondo) have gotten caught up with a dangerous gang called Huascas, who are hunting the group of orphans in order to retrieve a cell phone they believe the kids stole from one of the gang members. As the group finds themselves in deeper trouble with Huascas, Estrella begins to see things that may or may not really be there, blurring the line between the real life horror she is living and the entities haunting her.

The more the story unfolds, the more difficult it is to watch and although the film is regarded as fiction, Tigers is rooted in a painful truth that should open the eyes of audiences to some alarming real world issues that so easily slip under the radar. Lopez’s excellent direction is evident throughout the film and is especially reflected in the performances of the young ensemble. The roles of Estrella (Paola Lara) and Shine (Juan Ramón López) particularly stand out; the two young actors give authentic and powerful performances as children who are forced to grow up too quickly, dealing with matters that no adult, let alone child, should have to face.

We need more films like Tigers Are Not Afraid. We need more bold filmmakers like Issa Lopez who are not afraid to speak up about the actual, real-life evils in our world. We can only hope that fearless storytellers like Lopez and films like Tigers will provoke conversation and positive action regarding issues like the ones currently happening in Mexico and in other parts of the world today.

I believe that art can change the world. Although the story of Tigers Are Not Afraid is devastating, I came away from the film feeling hopeful and inspired because there are ways we can help. To learn more about what you can do to help children in need and for more information on the Mexican Drug War and the effects of its violence, please visit any of the following sites, or your preferred reliable source:

www.sos-usa.org

www.children.org

www.savethechildren.org

www.childfund.org

Tigers Are Not Afraid is currently making its rounds through the festival circuit, having already won awards from various festivals, including Best Picture and Best Director. Tigers Are Not Afraid will screen at Boston Underground Film Festival on Sunday, March 25, 2018 at 6:15pm.