Like a traditional fairytale, “Tigers Are Not Afraid” will lift you up and cut you down.

The 2017 supernatural-horror-drama Tigers Are Not Afraid (Vuelven) from writer/director Issa López (Casi divas) is truly an extraordinary cinematic experience. It pulls you in, charms you, enthralls you, rips you to shreds, and mends back the pieces. Thanks in part to positive responses from various festivals in 2017-2019, as well as a limited release in NY/LA in late 2019, a groundswell of support from the horror community formed for this intimate tale from Mexico which must be seen. Considering the long shots López had to overcome in order to make it, Tigers Are Not Afraid is a miracle of a film that’s finally landing on home video, likely in large part to the support from streaming service Shudder who’s been carrying the film since late 2019. With RLJE Films’s assistance, Tigers Are Not Afraid is available in physical formats for the first time: DVD and collectible steelbook Blu-ray/DVD combo.

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Paola Lara (Left) as Estrella in Issa López’s TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID.

Thanks to the violent actions of a gang, a town in Mexico slowly returns to nature as it is emptied of its people. Coming home to discover her mother’s absence, Estrella (Paola Lara) wishes for her return and is, instead, joined by a vengeful spirit. Terrified, Estrella runs off, seeking comfort with a small band of young boys led by Shine (Juan Ramón López). Like her, each of the boys has a story and can only truly be freed if the gang disappears. But when the gang comes after them directly, Estrella will have to determine what the spirit wants if she’s going to survive.

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Juan Ramón López as Shine in Issa López’s TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID.

There is a beguiling delicacy and precision about López’s work that hits you almost immediately. The film opens with a voiceover from Estrella talking about a fable, a Prince who wanted to turn into a tiger but couldn’t because he forgot what it means to be a prince, crosscut with a young boy we have yet to meet spray painting a tiger on a wall. López would have us believe that it is his story that Estrella’s narrating, except that’s the furthest from the truth. Bending gender notions within the tropes of horror, López creates one of the most heart-rending Final Girls thus far. Much of the evocative response comes from Lara’s performance, to be sure, but the design of Estrella is entirely bent from initial perception. But then, just about everything in López’s tale is up for argument or debate. Estrella’s supernatural encounter originates when a teacher gives her a piece of chalk and tells her she can make three wishes — a statement which comes as a means of distracting Estrella during a school shooting. With life in her town growing increasingly worse, why wouldn’t Estrella believe in magic, fairytales, and wishes? So when Estrella’s wishes begin to come true, albeit not in the way she intends, is it because Estrella willed it into being or is she trying to make sense of the violence of the world as it grows ever closer to the safety of her home? In the Blu-ray exclusive bonus feature, López engages in a Q&A moderated by Guillermo del Toro during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and del Toro interprets that the wishes don’t free Estrella from her problems, but bind her to them. Where a fairytale often is about freeing oneself from trouble, the more Estrella clings to the notions of childhood, the greater her danger becomes. To describe it as horrifying and disquieting is an absolute understatement, even as the audience begins to realize that the force beckoning to Estrella, calling to her, yearning for her, is not trying to hurt her but protect her, guide her. As a child, the things we don’t understand are so frequently the stuff of nightmares that this makes sense. It certainly helps that the make-up and costume design for the creature is bone-chilling in its simplicity.

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Inside look at the steelbook Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack.

That last bit is, perhaps, what makes Tiger so devastating to watch — it’s entirely authentic from top to bottom. As López explains in that same 2019 TIFF interview, she searched for actors not familiar with the style of acting popularized by telenovelas because she didn’t want the film to feel overly or unnecessarily dramatic. She wanted Tigers to feel like what the audience was observing was happening before them without the air of staging. Don’t worry, home release folks, you also get a look at the casting sessions for the five leads via a brief casting session clip of each introducing themselves with a snippet of screentests. You can see why Lara and Juan Ramón López were selected, their natural intensity coming through even with just simple sides to guide them. Then there’s the look of Tigers, which may seem to American audiences like a stereotypical Mexican town. It’s shot in Mexico, using real locations, and is brought to life by cinematographer Juan Jose Saravia who found ways to make danger appear everywhere, day or night. Saravia was also able to integrate a dream-like quality into some sequences, integral for blurring the line between the real world and the supernatural. Then there is the direction from López herself. This is both the strongest signifier of the film, as well as one of the most frustrating. For the majority of the film, it does no stop moving, as though contained with energy it cannot expel. For this reviewer, it’s disorienting as finding a place to focus becomes painful with the ever-shifting camera. However, when danger rises, the camera stiffens, retaining proximity without vibrating. López states in the 2019 TIFF Q&A that the camera is the audience as another member of the gang. This either makes a great deal of sense and takes on a morose sensation upon contemplating the conclusion of the film or it’s confusing and takes the shape of a good idea executed poorly. In either case, this is the only weak link in the entire film and is one forgotten about as the credits roll while a sinking pit grows in your stomach as you’re also filled with a strange peaceful elation as you ponder the preceding events.

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L-R: Paola Lara as Estrella, Hanssel Casillas as Tucsi, Nery Arredondo as Morro, Rodrigo Cortés as Pop, and Juan Ramón López as Shine in Issa López’s TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID.

As for the other special features, there are two sets of photo galleries (film stills and graffiti), over 7 minutes of deleted scenes, and feature-length commentary with López. These four items are included in both the Blu-ray and DVD releases, as is a nearly 45-minute “Making Of” short film that takes audiences through the whole process of the making of the film from interviews with principle crew to a table read of the script and more. Basically, if you’ve been waiting to get your hands on Tigers Are Not Afraid, RLJE and Shudder put in the *work* to ensure it would be worth the time for anyone seeking it. If you’re going to pick it up, try to track down the Blu-ray edition so that you can watch the 2019 TIFF interview. There’s some content that is shared between the “Making Of” and TIFF in terms of information you find out, but the energy of the discussion between López and del Toro is so great that you’ll find it’s an hour well-spent.

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Paola Lara as Estrella in Issa López’s TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID.

There’s a great deal in Tigers Are Not Afraid that is never explained: why people disappear, how Shine and his gang of lost boys came together, why the magic comes to Estrella. The lack of clear explanations from López enable the audience to feel the terror that the children feel at the terrible confusion that comes from the violence the children endure each day. Be advised that López pulls no punches with her cast, treating the tale as realistically as possible. Those familiar with Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 Pan’s Labyrinth will understand and those not should consider that original fairytales were treated as warnings to children, not something to pin dreams upon. So be ready to have your heart broken, but be not afraid, López will offer a salve to help it mend.

Tigers Are Not Afraid Special Features

Tigers Are Not Afraid Blu-ray includes the following bonus features:

  • The Making of Tigers Are Not Afraid (43:29)
  • Interview with Guillermo del Toro and Issa López at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival (1:03:26)
  • Director’s Commentary (1:23:51)
  • Deleted Scenes (7:35)
  • Casting Sessions (3:59)
  • Photo Galleries

Tigers Are Not Afraid DVD includes the following bonus features:

  • The Making of Tigers Are Not Afraid (43:29)
  • Director’s Commentary (1:23:51)
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Deleted Scenes (7:35)
  • Casting Sessions (3:59)

Available on Blu-ray/DVD steelbook and DVD May 5th, 2020.

Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.



Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Home Video, recommendation, Reviews, streaming

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