Ithaca Fantastik Movie Review: TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (2017)

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID, the latest from director Issa Lopez (600 Miles), is a tour de force film that is both equally heartbreaking and poetically beautiful. The film stars Paola Lara (La Siberia), Juan Ramon Lopez, Hanssel Casillas (El Violin de Julian), Rodrigo Cortes, Ianis Guerrero (Club of Crows) and Tenoch Huerta (Spectre).

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID tells the story of a group of children trying to survive in Mexico against a drug cartel that is known for abducting and murdering women and children. The main focus is on Estrella (Lara) as she finds herself alone after the disappearance of her mom. Through the use of beautifully vivid images, Estrella comes up with her own dark fairy tale to offset the horrors that have become her reality. She links up with four young boys who have found themselves homeless and living on the street as they do whatever it takes to not find themselves trapped in the clutches of the drug cartel.

This film truly is a punch to the gut but it’s done in a way that’s so visually appealing that it kind of softens the blow of what is unfolding. Taking the stage front and center are the five kids who have huddled together to form their own gang in order to take care of each other. The talent that these kids exude is astounding, almost to the point where it didn’t even feel like they were acting. With such heavy theming, the kids took on the subject matter ferociously without apology and without fear. To do a film such as this takes guts, and I applaud all of the kids that were involved in telling this story.

Besides the acting, what really captivated me about this film was the use of visuals to tell the story. By having the more fantastical elements intertwined through the story it made the viewing experience that much more enjoyable. The reality of what is happening to these kids and the way it tears families apart is heartbreaking and Issa Lopez does a spectacular job of bringing that to the forefront. With the addition of the more childlike moments, specifically that of a stuffed tiger, it really brought the viewer back to reality and reminded them that these are kids going through some pretty fucked up shit. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to have and one that is done in such a unique way that it stays with you long after the film has ended.

I haven’t seen any of Issa Lopez’s other films, so I can only go based off of TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID, but if this is any indication of the amount of talent and creativity that she has, than we are in the presence of a truly brilliant and inventive filmmaker. Not only was this film intense and raw, but there was a lot of heart and soul weaved throughout. When the credits rolled, I was dumbstruck by all that I had just watched and I knew this film was something special because it wasn’t a two dimensional thing. This movie deals with so many topics that are heavy with societal issues as well as real life events that are happening all around the world, specifically within Mexico. Lopez has given us a sprawling piece of art and we can’t look away and honestly, we shouldn’t, because we should be aware of what is happening outside of our own bubble.

In terms of brutality, there are definitely moments that are hard to watch. This movie isn’t filled to the brim with gore but the violence is unflinching. Where most would use gore for shock value, the killings in TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID make sense to the film and how the story is unfolding. It doesn’t mean that I enjoyed it, on the contrary, it was a lot to swallow, but I understood why it needed to be shown. If you are sensitive to any type of violence towards kids, I would definitely suggest caution when watching this movie.

Overall, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is one of the best films I’ve seen this year and has put director Issa Lopez front and center for me. As hard of a watch as it was, there is still a sense of hope that burst through which makes the whole experience worthwhile. I can’t urge you all enough to watch this when it’s finally released as there aren’t many films that have this caliber. Fans of Guillermo del Toro will find a lot to admire about this movie. Also, who doesn’t love a walking / talking stuff tiger?

Shannon McGrew
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