Dallas Movie Screening

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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Tigers Are Not Afraid

“Tigers Are Not Afraid,” the new feature from writer/director Issa López, tells the story of Estrella (Paola Lara), a young girl living in an undisclosed city in Mexico. At the film’s start, Estrella is in class, listening as her teacher discusses fairy tales. The students are instructed to concoct their own fairy tale using commonly recurring characters. As Estrella begins her assignment, López introduces Shine (Juan Ramón López), another of the film’s lead characters. Estrella’s tells her story to the audience in voiceover as scenes of Shine robbing a drunk cartel member, Caco (Ianis Guerrero), are cut into the classroom footage, making the opening a tad bit confusing. His character is easy to mistake as a creation of Estrella’s due to how the scene is edited together. This also serves as a clumsy introduction to the film’s entwinement of reality with the imaginary.

While Estrella works on her assignment, a gunfight breaks out in the street outside the school. López’s film takes place against Mexico’s drug wars. The class drops to the floor. To comfort Estrella, who happens to be closest, the teacher gives her three pieces of chalk, describing them as wishes. If the thematic importance of the fairy tale hasn’t already impressed itself into the audiences’ mind, it does once Estrella is given her wishes. With the school closed until further notice, Estrella returns home followed by a quickly moving trail of blood. At her house, Estrella finds her mother is missing. The blood trail, a recurring image that follows Estrella throughout the movie, winds around the room, finding its way to one of her mother’s dresses and drenching it in a violent pattern. Has Estrella’s mother fallen victim to the drug cartel’s violence?

“Tigers Are Not Afraid” is best described as a drama with fantasy/horror elements, the lines blurred between the real and the fantastic. Estrella is frequently dropped into a horrific fantasy world as she is confronted by the harshness of reality. Left alone and growing increasingly hungry, Estrella uses one of her wishes to ask for her mother’s return. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Her wish is responded to by a menacing spectral figure that begins whispering warnings and instructions to Estrella. The now terrified Estrella finds her way to Shine and his gang of children orphaned by the cartel’s violence. To make matters worse, the cartel desperately wants the items back that Shine stole from Caco.

The film creates a surreally grim atmosphere, using camerawork that is noticeably hectic. The frenzied photography is revealed to be a conscious cosmetic choice from director López once the film shows its strikingly different final shot. Conscious or not, it’s a stylistic choice that causes the film to feel sloppy, repeatedly removing viewers from the story. Perhaps due to it being labeled as a horror movie, I found this one hard to get into. It’s a short film, eighty-three-minutes, but it feels longer. This isn’t tortuous to get through. It’s just not as engaging as it should have been.
(Review by Bret Oswald)

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