fairy tale

Tigers Are Not Afraid

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Drug wars have turned cities into ghost towns. They have also left children without parents or homes, forced to fend for themselves on the streets. After Estrella’s mother doesn’t come home, she is left to seek shelter and help from a group of orphaned boys. Their fight for survival on those unkind streets takes the children down a twisted fairy tale complete with wishes, zombies, and tigers.

Written and directed by Issa López (Casi Divas, Ladies’ Night), this film is one of the most talked about indie horror films of the year. Much of the talk about Tigers Are Not Afraid is thanks to legendary director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) singing its praises. Much like traditional fairy tales, the film opens by introducing us to the lovely “princess” in the form of Estrella. Everything that happens in the film is either shown from her point of view or the leader of the orphaned boys, Shine. They are all doing their best to survive on the streets while avoiding the cartels. At the same time, Estrella is haunted by the memory of her mother and the weight of three chalk pieces that may or may not be able to grant her wishes. She bears this weight all on her own since the other orphans don’t see the things Estrella sees. This childlike point of view allows for the reality of the brutal crimes happening all around the kids to seamlessly blend together with the fantastical elements. The result is an incredibly unique story that is as unsettling as it is beautiful.

All of the main characters in Tigers Are Not Afraid are children, and each of them is a joy to watch on the screen. Young leading lady, Paola Lara, makes her feature film debut as Estrella. When Estrella joins the group of boys, she immediately takes on a maternal role, yet her longing for her mother keeps her trapped in the twisted fairy tale. Lara manages to show a certain amount of vulnerability, while also showing how Estrella is able to adapt in order to survive. Also making his feature film debut is Juan Ramón López as Shine. His performance, for me, is the stand-out of the film. Poor Shine is both emotionally and physically scarred from losing his mother to the cartels. Shine takes care of the other boys and takes on a tough-guy persona, but López shows the ocean of emotional depth hidden just beneath the surface of that persona. Both Lara and López are great on screen together, naturally taking on the roles of mother and father to the other boys despite being kids themselves. The other children in their small band of orphans are also a joy to watch, including Hanssel Casillas (Sitiados: México) as Tucsi, Rodrigo Cortés as Pop, and Nery Arredondo as the adorable Morrito.

The film is a feast for both your eyes and ears. As the film begins, the sets are slightly run down apartments and makeshift rooftop shelters. Then the fairy tale element is played up more throughout the film when the kids discover what appears to be an abandoned old mansion. What might be the most surprising artistic element of Tigers Are Not Afraid is the superb use of CGI. For the most part, the effects themselves are subtle, but because they all relate to the fantasy in the plot the effects still stand out. There are dragons, sentient blood trails, tigers, and more all done with gorgeous CGI. Then of course the plot is emphasized by the melancholy and captivating score by composer Vince Pope (Misfits, Black Mirror). The film is stunning on how well it combines the horrors of life and nightmares with the hope of children and their fairy tales.

Tigers Are Not Afraid is a uniquely dark fairy tale rooted in the real life horrors experienced by children. López has shown the world she can not only write a compelling film, but she can also direct and bring it to life in a way that is simultaneously haunting and heartbreaking. It is the kind of film that can make the audience feel the full gamut of emotions through effective storytelling and fantastical visuals, not to mention the amazing performances from the entire cast of young actors. One thing I will warn people of is that this Mexican film is in Spanish and is subtitled. While this should never deter a viewer from watching a film, I know in this day and age many people shy away from subtitled films. Tigers Are Not Afraid is the kind of film that will be noticed by a wide range of audiences, not just horror fans. I can’t wait to see what López does next.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

Krampus

These days, Christmas does not mean what it used to. Christmas used to be a time of giving, cheer, and holiday spirit. Now it’s about trampling each other to get to the best Black Friday deals and being forced to spend the holidays with relatives you hate. For young Max (Emjay Anthony) Christmas was once a magical time. This year, he has reached his breaking point. After losing his holiday spirit, Max unwittingly unleashes the wrath of the evil Krampus. Now, his family has to fight for their lives to survive this Christmas.

When I heard that writer/director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat) was making another holiday horror film, I was very excited. I absolutely loved Trick ‘r Treat so I had very high expectations for Krampus, especially since I was already familiar with the folklore. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Krampus will definitely be added to the list of amazing Christmas-themed horror flicks. What I loved about this film was that it took a sinister character from ancient folk tales, and adapted the story to fit in with the modern world.

The visual effects in this film were excellent. The CGI primarily focused around the little helpers that Krampus used to infiltrate the family’s home. The helpers were created in such a way that they were pure evil without appearing over the top. These characters are my favorite aspect of the film because they are absolutely adorable and terrifying all at once. This is the kind of character that Dougherty excels at utilizing, like he did with Sam in Trick ‘r Treat.

The characters that did not require CGI were great as well. The elves were dressed in a very smart way so that they didn’t require a lot of practical effects makeup. They were mostly just shrouded in rags with horns on their heads and glowing eyes. Krampus was of course very well done. They made him this massive horned beast with cloven hooves wearing a large cloak and covered in chains. His silhouette was so striking, and it definitely had a frightening impact when you see it for the first time. His face was probably my favorite part though. They made his face look almost like a doll or mask version of old Saint Nick, but it was distorted into a face of anger with eyes that were deep-set and demonic looking. He really was a beautifully dark character.

While the acting in this film overall was fantastic, Emjay Anthony (Chef) definitely stood out for me. In horror films I tend to find child actors to be either creepy as hell or so annoying you just want them to die already. Anthony not only did a great acting job, but he also managed to to portray a kid I could truly empathize with and I cared about his well being. Of course Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine) and Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) did an excellent job portraying their characters’ fear while also being hilarious. Another standout performance for me was Krista Stadler (Mobbing) as the wise Omi (which is German for grandma). I had never seen her in anything else before, but I loved that she brought more of the traditional German folklore aspect of Krampus and that she spoke virtually only in German the entire film.

I found this to be a very compelling tale that really dives into what is wrong with the holidays in modern times. What better way to solve those modern day problems than with an ancient evil? This film delves into the fact that Christmas has become this greedy, consumer and profit driven time of year. It is no longer about “good will toward men.” It really does seem appropriate to use a character like Krampus to teach a lesson to those who have lost what the true meaning of Christmas is. There were only a couple aspects of the story that I didn’t enjoy as much. The first being that there are a series of events at the climax of the film that seem much too rushed. It almost seemed like the filmmakers didn’t have enough time to give the events more care so they just crammed them all together in quick succession. The other aspect is the ending, but it’s not what you think. Obviously, I’m not going to give too much away. When the end finally came I felt incredibly underwhelmed by it. Don’t worry though, the film redeems itself before the credits start rolling so much so that I can’t imagine it ending any other way.

Krampus is a film that will be added to my list of Christmas movies I have to watch every year. It ties in old traditions with how the holidays are today. It has a compelling cast of characters from young Max to Krampus himself. There really isn’t much I can say about this film that isn’t good. Plus, this film is humorous enough with cutesy evil characters that you could probably introduce it to younger audiences (especially if they still believe in Santa so you can show them what happens when they are naughty). Definitely go see this film for the holiday season with the whole family, then rewatch it every year for Christmas.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10