Review: Tigers Are Not Afraid

Tigers Are Not Afraid is a darkly beautiful piece of genre cinema that offers a unique perspective of the horrors of the drug cartels in Mexico and how they affect a small band of vagabond orphans who are forced to live on the streets and fend for themselves. The children are armed only with three magical wishes as they run from the ghosts that haunt them and the villains who murdered their parents.

Upon viewing, one can certainly understand the many comparisons of writer-director Issa López’s to Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth—however, she does tell her story in her own way. The film is imbued with a decidedly European flair and mood, and those familiar with movies like the neorealist Los Olvidados, Au Revoir les Enfants, or the full-on fantasy of The City of Lost Children will certainly connect. López adds the occasional fantastical moment (these range from a bracelet of birds that flies from one wrist to another, to an animated blood-trail, to the ghoul-eyed zombie replicas of family members killed by the cartel), but mostly Tigers Are Not Afraid is a gritty drama focusing on the grief and fear which forges friendship between pre-teen Estrella (Paola Lara) and “the boys club” whose totem is the tiger.

Things are bad enough just living hand-to-mouth on the war-torn streets, but they take a turn for the worse when the most impetuous among the boys, El Shine (Juan Ramón López), steals a gun and phone from the treacherous gang member El Chino (Tenoch Huerta) which makes himself and his friends the cartel’s next target. The male youngsters really do not want a girl in the mix, but they feel sorry for Estrella—and are in awe of her psychic ability which was given to her in the form of three wishes. Part of her initiation involves killing one of the bad guys, a task that leads to further disaster.

I must admit, I was pretty bored during the first hour of Tigers Are Not Afraid. While it does establish the story and the characters, there’s not much forward momentum. Frankly, I’m just not very interested in stories about children. What’s more, the director chooses to spend scads of time showing the children in denial (playing with their phones, acting on a stage, games of hide-and-seek), giving us only glimpses into their hearts. The cold, hard fact that 160,000 have been killed and 53,000 have disappeared since the beginning of the drug war in 2006 is lost on no-one, but I would have liked a little less aimless action and more introspection.

However, I will say that in spite of the violence and very strong language, Tigers Are Not Afraid is a movie that I would have loved when I was a kid. Of course, I’ll leave the parenting up to the parents, but I do believe this would be a good movie for kids from 11-16 to see. It’s very empowering for them. When Tigers Are Not Afraid hits its stride toward the end, it is gripping indeed.

Lara and López play off one another well, displaying believable chemistry as the boy-leader of the ragtag band of orphans and the female upstart who really just wants to be a part of their makeshift family. The cinematography is lovely, and the music sets the stage well in both the few contemplative moments and the tableaus of terror.

While Tigers Are Not Afraid isn’t a movie that I love, I do recommend it for parents, children, and anyone who is into plot devices that use fantasy as a tool to explore reality.

Written by
Staci is known for her work in the horror genre, having been the producer and host of the talk shows Inside Horror, Dread Central Live, and This Week In Horror and she has appeared on Bravo, Reelz, AMC, M-TV, and CNN as a film expert. She is the author of Animal Movies Guide, 50 Years of Ghost Movies, and several horror novels.

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