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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area



    A horror fantasy film about real horrors

    The engaging but problematic new fantasy horror film Tigers Are Not Afraid (Spanish title, Vuelven) unfolds in a nameless Mexican border town where five kids orphaned by a drug cartel called Los Huascas band together to get revenge - and escape. unfolds in a nameless Mexican border town where five kids orphaned by a drug cartel called Los Huascas band together to get revenge - and escape. unfolds in a nameless Mexican border town where five kids orphaned by a drug cartel called Los Huascas band together to get revenge - and escape. In this no-exit world, that's a tough combination, and the plot-line doesn't always seem plausible. But literary light Issa Lopez, who has won prizes for her writing, seeks to dazzle with her ambition and accomplishment and often succeeds in this third feature film, which in scarcely 80 minutes touches the genres of horror, fantasy, and multiple realisms, both magic and the gritty urban kind. In truth what makes it all work, when it does, is the pathos, charm, and pungent vulgarity of the children, who are gracefully cast and brilliantly directed. (When other things stopped grabbing me, I always delighted in the English subtitles' farfetched efforts to match the kids' feisty Mexican Spanish.)

    Guillermo del Toro is an inspiration and a sponsor, with this a grittier, more steeped in realism version of his work.Hook, Peter Pan even Alice in Wonderland have been plausibly cited as like formats. Los Olvidados and Pixote have been invoked. One might add Lord of the Flies ? But here, the savagery isn 't children run wild on an island, but the nation's omnipresence drug war, said to have racked up 160,000 killed and 53,000 disappeared since 2006. The kids' band leader, called El Shine (bright-eyed and impressively solemn Juan Ramón López), has stolen the iPhone of a drug boss whose name begins with C, as does his brother's (Caco, El Chino). The girl, Estrella (Paola Lara) agrees to use one of the three wishes (deseos) a teacher has granted her (so she believes), and the pistol El Shine has stolen from him, to kill Caco. She is followed off and on by a thin tellltale animated trail of blood - an image nicked from Gabriel García Márquez's 100 Years of Solitude.

    Another key visual device is the graffiti drawings that depict the kids and their animal avatars. This makes the whole grim urban world into their palette, a most engaging fantasy, but a sign how the grit is invaded by the fantasy. Estrella also has a stuffed toy tiger that comes to life, while ranks of shadowy animated "ghosts" appear to her, including the constant presence of her dead mother, whom she has wished back, but gets only in spooky form. Her spectral mom makes Estrella, as April Wolfe puts it in her 2017 Fantastic Fest report for the Voice, "like a princess who’s guided on her journey by a kind of fairy godmother." In this benighted town due to the ominous presence of Los Huascas, new "ghosts" arrive every day.

    I found the multiple fantasy-horror-magic realism trappings not so much cloying - the down-to-earth kids and their vivid language constantly counteract that - as troubling, given the underlying literal horror of drug cartel violence that provides Vuelven with its subject matter. Wolfe writes that "By telling this story through the children’s eyes with a magical-realism element, López makes the tragically unthinkable somehow more palatable." Whether that's a desired end, it may have been all writer-director Lopez could bear to think of to cope artistically with Mexican drug violence, and of course it's what her mentor Del Toro has done with war. But he did it with events embedded in history, the Spanish Civil War, World War II fascism. In the face of today's news, the style seems more frivolous. One can sympathize at times with Ed Gonzalez of Slant, who sees this film as finding "easy absolution" in "fairy-tale conceit."

    Certainly Lopez aligns herself with a different tradition that that of the most attractive recent Latin American youth pictures. Among these I'd cite Alonso Ruizpalacios witty Güeros (2014), Alex dos Santos' 2006 Glue, Che Sandoval's You Think You're the Prettiest, But You Are the Sluttiest (2009), and the work of Fernando Eimbcke and Gerardo Naranjo, which tend to find the unvarnished everyday fantastic and marvelous enough. Nonetheless, Issa Lopez has gotten our attention with this admirably economical, vivid and heartfelt movie.

    Tibers Are Not Afraid/Vuelven, 83 mins., debuted Sept. 2017 at Fantastic Fest (Austin), showing at several dozen other fantasy/horror festivals; many awards. It opens theatrically in the US Wed. Aug. 21, 2019 at IFC Center, New York; San Francisco, 9.6. Metascore 75%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-25-2019 at 12:24 AM.


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