n a world ruled by violence, only tigers are not afraid. But it’s hard to be a tiger when even the safety of your classroom is regularly violated by gunfire and violence. Cowering on the floor during a shootout one day, young Estrella’s (Paola Lara) teacher presses three sticks of chalk into her hand and tells her each stick represents a wish.

When her mother disappears, a victim of the random and commonplace brutality of Mexico’s drug wars, Estrella of course wishes her mother would return. Which she does. Sort of. But like the recipient of the Monkey’s Paw, Estrella finds her wishes have consequences.

Fleeing her apartment and her mother’s ghost, Estrella is forced to fend for herself on the violent, dangerous streets, eventually finding companionship and fleeting safety with a band of similarly orphaned street kids led by the tough, cynical Shine (Juan Ramós López) becoming a mother figure to this tribe of Lost Boys.

But Shine’s theft of a gun and mobile phone from local gangsterCaco (Ianis Guerrero) brings the children into conflict with corrupt politician and local godfather El Chino (Tenoch Huerta). As Chino’s killers close in, Estrella is haunted by the ghost of her mother and the unquiet spirits of the dead who cry out for vengeance. And Estrella has two wishes left…

Possibly the most devastating, beautiful and scary film I’ve seen this year, I’m not ashamed to admit that I bawled my eyes out all the way through Mexican writer/director Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid, leaving me a shattered, weeping, snotty mess.

Mixing fantasy and the supernatural with harsh, unforgiving reality, Tigers Are Not Afraid, with its creeping blood trails, predatory graffiti, vengeful ghosts and animated soft toys, is already being breathlessly compared to the work of Guillermo del Toro. But writing her off as a del Toro clone sells short López’s talent. Where del Toro used fantasy and fairy tale in the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth to supplant reality, the magical-realist elements of López’s film underline the grit of her vision; the demons that stalk López’s young heroes are all too human, the squalor and desperation of the children’s lives all too real.

While she coaxes phenomenal performances from her young cast particularly the raw intensity of Juan Ramós López as the brooding Shine, the poised, luminous Paola Lara as Estrella and the wordless, eloquent poignancy of Nery Arredondo’s youngest member of the gang, the silent Morro, rendered mute by the horrors that have filled his young life, desperately clutching the patched, threadbare toy tiger he carries everywhere, López doesn’t skimp on the horror. Her ghosts are not the melancholy, protective ghosts of del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone but plastic-wrapped revenants demanding justice from beyond the grave, their blood crying out for blood. But the true horror of Tigers Are Not Afraid is not the undead who haunt the film but the grisly truth that gunshots are no respecters of youth, that any of her young protagonists could take a bullet in the face, that the true tragedy is that the situations that Estrella, Shine and Morro find themselves in are not so different from the lives of Mexico’s real street children.

Scary, provactive, raw and passionate, Tigers Are Not Afraid may not be just the best film of FrightFest but the best film you’ll see this year! It’s a tragic, heartbreaking, wonderful, ultimately uplifting, piece of work that could bring tears to a glass eye. If Issa López’sTigers Are Not Afraid doesn’t make you cry, you’re probably already a narcotraficante!


Arrow Video Frightfest Review: Tigers Are Not Afraid
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