Issa López has been working in the film industry for a number of years now, and those years of hard work have well and truly paid off with Tigers Are Not Afraid, a sweet and effective horror movie that, it's very fair to say, has elevated her profile considerably and allowed her to make what may well be a major step up, in terms of her career opportunities and a wider potential audience. That will happen when festival-goers, genre fans, and such luminaries as Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro, all rush to throw praise and superlatives at your latest film.
I had to wait a hell of a long time to see this, which is even annoying when you consider the fact that I was at the Glasgow Frightfest event that first put this film on my radar. A burst water pipe at home meant I had to head back early and deal with arranging emergency repairs, all while we battled "the beast from the East" towards the beginning of 2018. I read enthusiastic social media comments with despair, being convinced by everyone who was in attendance that weekend that I had missed the best film of the festival. Now, having finally seen the film, it's hard to argue with that opinion. I tried to keep my expectations in check, but I needn't have worried. López has crafted something beautiful and mesmerising here, and it's no surprise that Del Toro has been so impressed (considering how much it feels like something he could have made when he was still making smaller, more intimate, chillers).
The basic story focuses on Estrella (Paola Lara), a young girl who returns home one day to find her mother has been killed by local gangsters. This leads to her encountering a group of children who all keep each other company on the streets of Mexico, living by their wits and their ability to support one another through their darkest times. A chain of events, involving a stolen phone, leads to the children making enemies of the gun-toting gangsters. Estrella may be the one person who can save them. She has a limited number of wishes that can come true. Of course, Estrella knows that she is now seeing the corpse of her mother appearing intermittently after wishing she could have her back, so the wishes may not be a blessing.
I hope that those who know me well enough will know that I am not prone to hyperbole. It's why I resigned myself to simply utilising this little corner of the internet to basically talk to myself every time I write a little bit about movies. Nobody really needs to take note. The things that get noticed nowadays are the extremes. You have to LOVE or HATE something, yet the reality is that a lot of things end up somewhere in between. Tigers Are Not Afraid is not one of those things. I LOVE this movie. I simply cannot think of any one thing I would change about it, and I've been thinking hard over the past 24 hours, since the end credits rolled and I wondered whether or not I would be delivering a rare 10/10 rating (heads up . . . that's a yes).
López has written and directed a small masterpiece, and packaged it in a tight 83-minute runtime that perfectly suits the mix of the light, fairytale-esque, narrative and the moments that linger on something eerie or emotionally impactful, or both. I just can't think of any one moment in which she doesn't make the right decision in her approach to the material, making the end result a beautiful collage of commentary, atmosphere, and hugely satisfying cinematic moments. Between the real-world dangers being shown onscreen and the film techniques used throughout, López shows that she can navigate both territories.
She's helped by her cast. There are some adults here, doing good work, but the film really belongs to the children, particularly Lara, Juan Ramón López (playing Shine), Hanssel Casillas, and Rodrigo Cortes. Every single child actor gives a great performance, even if the film understandably gives some of them a lot less to do than others.
I'll either run out of words soon enough or I'll keep throwing out too many platitudes, which I am loathe to do, so I'll just say that I have seen some people refer to this as a supernatural-tinged Calvin And Hobbes, which is true. It's also quite similar to a land-based Life Of Pi (hey, it's my review and I'll throw around any wild ideas I like). Most of all, however, Tigers Are Not Afraid is your new potential genre classic. It doesn't need to be compared to other movies or creative works, even if those comparisons are favourable, because López has crafted familiar elements into something special and unique.
Tigers Are Not Afraid is still in some cinemas, and it's now on Shudder.