Jason Arment reviews Tigers Are Not Afraid, a Spanish-language horror mystery film directed by Issa López. (Filmadora Nacional Peligrosa)
When I sat down to watch Tigers Are Not Afraid, I thought it would be traditional horror film, with all the too-familiar tropes and story arcs. Tigers Are Not Afraid isn’t the standard American horror flavor of the moment, it’s a foreign film from Mexico and it’s about gang violence decimating Mexico’s families and terrorizing its often-orphaned children.
The protagonist is a recently orphaned girl named Estrella, played by Paola Lara, who falls in with a gang self-named The Tigers, led by El Shine, played by Juan Ramón López. The Tigers are a small pack of orphaned children who farm a weaker gang which often leaves graffiti of tigers in their vicinity. Soon, they run into trouble, and so the film’s protagonist must step up and save the day. In the end, the film is bleak and depressing, because even though the children fight and die bravely, leaving barely any alive by the time the curon falls, there seems to be nothing saved for the audience.
(Tigers Are Not Afraid movie poster)
The corruption Tigers Are Not Afraid sheds light on is nothing new when it comes to power and exploitation in Mexico, but showcases the pervasiveness of it in the Mexican culture. Whether or not real life reflects the rampant violence and corruption, I don’t know. But if it does, which is entirely possible, then there is obviously a humanitarian crisis of colossal proportions happening in Mexico. The enormity of the situation lends itself handily to the more paranormal and fantastical aspects, of which there are many.
The way supernatural elements are handled is congruent with the rest of the film. Early on, one of the children explains how the local gangs of adults are narco-satanists who kidnap and kill women and children, and it’s mentioned magic can happen in the real world as well as the digital realm. The use of phones throughout the film could have been awkward if there had been some barrier for the fantastic in technological devices, but instead the fantastic and magical moves smoothly and seamlessly throughout real and digital worlds. As time goes on and technology becomes more wholly integrated into our lives, more movies will have to reconcile the bridge between reality and cyberspace.
Tigers Are Not Afraid doesn’t end on a note that could be called positive, but it is hopeful. Hearkening to the resilience of the Mexican people, when the film fades to black, the viewers leave resolute in the knowledge that a better tomorrow is entirely possible, and even likely, if the Mexican people get justice for the epidemic of drug-fueled violence.