Film Review: TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (Mexico 2016) ***

Tigers Are Not Afraid Poster
A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war.


Issa López


Issa López

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is a Mexican supernatural fairy tale horror fantasy thriller that comes with the stamp of approval of Mexican horror Master Guillermo del Toro.  It is easy to figure the reason.  TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID bears many traits and look of his early films like PAN’S LABYRINTH, CRONOS, THE DEVIL’S BACKONE and THE SHAPE OF WATER.   Besides the look of CRONOS, TIGERS bears a young female protagonist as in PAN’S LABYRINTH stuck in a horror fantasy.  Again the protagonist has to outsmart the authorities as in THE SHAPE OF WATER to escape certain danger.

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID has a beautifully dark setting of a coastal Mexican town where drug cartels battle that results in many orphaned children. As Mexico is famous for its many festivals of the dead, the orphaned children rise from the dead seeking revenge from the bad drug people who caused their deaths.  One of the dead happens to the the protagonist’s mother, who Estrella wants to be re-untied with.  But as they say, be careful of what you wish for.  The mother materializes as a ghastly corpse commanding her daughter, Estrella to bring the dreaded corrupt official to the labyrinth of tunnels where the dead are buried so that they can kill him in revenge.

Poor Estrella.  Not only is she orphaned but is ostracized by the largely male group of boys who run around her old residence like a gang.  It is in a male world that the filmmakers and the female director Issa Lopez weave a tale where the female gender rises above the males.  The protagonist is female who has to prove her worth to the boys.  The ghost is female too, the mother who has a big impact on the story.  The story could also be told with he genders switched but the story this way has more dynamic impact.

The story also serves as a coming-of-age tale of Estrella who grows up to be a fine woman.  Her character is also not perfect, she having to lie in order to get ahead.

Director Lopez’s script cleverly blends the fairy tale element into the story.  Estrella is doing an exercise in school of writing ones own fairy tale when a shootout occurs.  Her teacher gives her 3 pieces of chalk granting her 3 fairy tale wishes, which she uses.  As most fairy tales have a dark element, so does the Estrella’s tale, taking an especially dark side she never imagined.

Director Lopez’s film is rich in period atmosphere (2006) and she creates a sold horror piece.  But this being her first feature, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is linear – one straight story told in a grim setting.  With experience, her films will be more layered (as in the del Toro films) with more unexpected turns and twists with the setting playing a greater impact and influence on the story.

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is currently playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.



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