Tigers Are Not Afraid is a heartbreaking and mesmerising magic realist urban fairy tale. Set in a Mexican City that was turned into a ghost town by the drug war, the movie explores death in such a captivating and beautiful way all the while focussing on the bleak realism.
Writer/director Issa Lopez has created a piece that oozes the dark fantasy of Guillermo Del Toro and blends it seamlessly with the hard-hitting social commentary that couldn’t be further from that. Tigers Are Not Afraid is a film that will sit with you long after it is over. Not for the simple reasons that the story itself is at times heartbreaking, at times heartwarming and always engaging, but because it explores its themes in such an unforgettable way.
Death is all around the central gang of parentless, homeless children. Led by Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez), the children reluctantly welcome in Estrella (Paola Lara) after her mother was taken by the same drug dealers that terrorize the boys’ lives. However, Estrella has three wishes. When she wishes for her mother to return, she returns from the dead and leaves Estrella haunted.
Screened on Friday night at Grimmfest, Tigers Are Not Afraid is at its most startlingly impressive when the magic realist, the more fantastical things take place. The beauty of these scenes is outstanding and when you consider that these are some of the most haunting and terrifying scenes in the entire movie, the fact they are equally so beautiful fits so perfectly into this film’s central theme of death.
In this film, death is shown in all ways from heartbreaking murder to satisfied sacrifice. All throughout Tigers Are Not Afraid, the children have tried and have wanted to escape their bleak world, ruled by death. It is why this film consistently packs huge emotional punches for the audience.
Aside from the fantastical, the film does a superb job of depicting the physical and psychological difficulties of living in such a world, especially for children. They embrace every fantasy they can find because it allows them to escape for a little while. Of course, the story does not go easy on the children, but what it does do is give them closure and eventual satisfaction.
Issa Lopez is very clearly a name we should all be keeping our eyes on after Tigers Are Not Afraid. When a filmmaker can haunt you and captivate you at the exact same time, they are doing something very right. However, a film like this is not easy to watch. Not least because of the bleakness but also because of the thoughts it brings up in your own mind about the beauty of fantasy and how death affects us all in different ways.
It is a film to be highly recommended, even just to look for the influences of Del Toro, but don’t go in expecting as much fantasy as Pan’s Labyrinth. Go in expecting exactly what you get; an urban fairy tale riddled with magic realism and a truly wonderful film-watching experience.