Film Review: “Tigers Are Not Afraid”

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID
Starring: Paola Lara, Juan Ramon Lopez
Directed by: Issa Lopez
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 1 hour 23 minutes
Variance Films 

While there are certainly enough terrifying elements to make “Tigers Are Not Afraid” a horror film, this 2017 title from Mexican director Issa Lopez is a breath of fresh air for any cinephile. It first taps into the cartel-related violence plaguing Latin America to create an imaginative story concerning a group of orphaned children struggling to survive. Next, Lopez’s engaging script puts a spin on what would have been a tragic drama by inserting the ghosts of that violence and their desire for retribution. At not even 90 minutes running time, “Tigers Are Not Afraid” is a sprint that will leave your heart racing. 

Lopez hooks us right away from a startling statistic: that in the 10 years since the beginning of the drug cartel wars (2006) in Mexico, that an estimated 160,000 people had been killed and another 53,000 had disappeared. Staggering numbers to be sure. However, it is made even more sobering when you are forced to consider how many innocent children in all of it have been turned into orphans with no where to go. If a random bullet does not get them, then human traffickers will. 

We find young Estrella (Paola Lara) attending school and crafting a fairy tale in her class about a tiger when gunfire on the street erupts, causing all classes to be suspended indefinitely. While hunkering down, a teacher gives Estrella three pieces of chalk that represent three wishes for Estrella to use. It is not until Estrella encounters a dead body in the street that things become a little Stephen Kingish as a trail of blood follows her home like a snake. 

After Estrella arrives home, we realize that both of her parents have vanished, and she is utterly alone. The father has apparently been out of the picture for a while, so it is the mother that is the focal point of her mourning. In desperation, Estrella uses one of her chalk pieces to wish that her mother would come back. A natural thing to want, but poorly though out as her mother comes back to her in the form of hushed whispers and ghastly images. 

Estrella, always followed by the blood trail, ends up finding refuge with a group of orphaned boys led by a streetwise kid named El Shine (Juan Roman Lopez). This refuge is no place for a girl, especially since El Shine has recently stolen the gun and cell phone belonging to a notorious human trafficker who has murdered multiple people. As they try to stay one step of ahead of them, Estrella other wishes, compounded by her mother’s requests goes to show to be careful what you wish for, even if you do survive. 

“Tigers Are Not Afraid” is a gripping, intense story that is plenty tragic even without the horror element. The plight of Mexican children entangled by this long war on the cartels and the one between them, is too easily forgotten by a news media starving for the next 24-hour news cycle. As for the horror element, it is done is such a minimalist way that it greatly heightens the story’s tension when it is introduced. The acting by the two lead children is performed well enough, but it is the story itself that is the star. If you have heart issues, then you might want to take your medication first before seeing “Tigers Are Not Afraid.”

 

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Blu-ray Review “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

Directors: Troy Nixey
Starring: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Bruce Gleeson, Eddie Ritchard
MPAA Rated: R
Distributed: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Running Time: 99 minutes

Film Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

When you have a horror film, or any film, that is written and produced by Guillermo del Toro, you set your expectations very high. This film unfortunately disappoints and  fails to delivers his usual charm. The film is a remake of the 1973 horror film of the same title but it doesn’t capture the same spark that the first film did. One of the film’s faults is that it is an R-rated film that plays like a PG-13 rated film.

The film follows a young girl, Sally, who moves to live with her father and his new girlfriend in a 19th-century mansion, that her father is restoring. During Sally’s exploration of the old mansion, she starts to finds out that creatures are living in the basement. Her curiosity ends up releasing them loose in the house and she finds out that they have a lust for little children.

I actually really enjoyed the performances from Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and specifically Bailee Madison. They all gave decent performances, especially for a horror film. I wish that they also didn’t show the creatures as much as they did. It could have been a lot more successfully if we didn’t have a close up on them each scene. The Blu-ray looks clear and definitely uses the dark scenes to deliver great picture.  The sound also is great but I wish the film was more suspenseful because it could have benefited more.

The special features are slim but decent overall. There is a behind the scenes featurette, which consists of three parts. The first focuses on “The Story”, the second focuses on “Blackwood’s Mansion” and the last focuses on “The Creatures”. I feel that it covers all the proper grounds and gives decent insight into the films story and production. There is also a Conceptual Art Gallery included and it is actually decent, especially since it feels like it comes from Guillermo del Toro’s mind. Lastly, the film comes with the new instant streaming using UltraViolet digital copy.

Film Review “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

Starring: Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes and Bailee Madison
Directed by: Troy Nixey
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 39 mins
Miramax

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro describes the 1973 “made for television” film “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” as the scariest movie ever made for that medium. While my first choice would actually be “Trilogy of Terror,” it was pretty scary to my 13-year old mind. del Toro is the producer behind the new version of the Kim Darby/Jim Hutton (Tim’s dad) scare-fest and, while it has a few good moments, it’s another unnecessary new film based on an old film.

In a quiet part of Rhode Island, little Sally (Madison) has been sent by her mother to live with her dad, Alex (Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Holmes). Unhappy with the move, Sally is a brooding child. When she spies a broach that Kim is wearing Kim tells her, “my mother gave it to me.” “My mom gave ME to my dad,” Sally replies. She is also unhappy about the house, an old mansion that we’re introduced to in a prologue that makes the “is it safe?” scene in “Marathon Man” look like fun. While exploring the grounds Sally discovers a hidden basement. What she finds inside will make you think twice before you look for a quarter under your pillow.

With one seventeen-minute short film on his resume’, Troy Nixey certainly seems like an odd choice to direct a feature horror film. The film moves well but it’s obvious that Nixey (as well as screenwriters del Toro and Matthew Robbins) have been influenced by what they’ve seen before, including “Poltergeist,” “Gremlins,” “The Amityville Horror” and del Toro’s own “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Though there is some blood and violence, the majority of the scares depend on how they are set up. I can put a camera over someone’s shoulder, play the music loud and, when I feel like it, throw a cat up on screen to make everybody jump. There are no flying cats, thank goodness, but a lot of the scares are basically Horror Movie 101. I would LOVE to have seen what del Toro would do with it.

The cast tries it’s best to convey the terror. As little Sally, Madison appears to be in full “Damien” mode at first. Quiet and brooding, she begins to try to make friends with the creatures that live in the basement and want her to be their friend. Holmes is strong as the young woman not prepared to be a mother, even in a temporary roll. Pearce, looking creepily like a young Mark Wahlberg or Scott Glenn, circa “Urban Cowboy,” is also strong as his Alex must first battle with Sally’s mood then the eventual creatures that she encourages with her action. The visual effects, by effects maestros Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, are a little jumpy, with the creatures resembling Salacious Crumb, the little guy that sat on Jabba the Hutts’ lap in “Return of the Jedi.”

“That place is unsafe for children,” a local handyman repeatedly tells Alex and Kim about the basement. Unsafe? I guess so. But, with the exception of a few scares, there’s really no reason to be afraid of the dark. I wasn’t.

 

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