I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into today’s movie. Hell, even after seeing it, it remains hard for me to really put my thoughts into a coherent review. The very nature of the mixture of fairy tale, fantasy, horror, and the grim reality of life that is presented makes trying to describe things succinctly a challenge. Also, like yesterday’s movie, I must issue a Content Warning: there is violence against children front and center in this film.
Our main characters are Shine and Estrella, two orphans that lost their parents due to the drug wars in Mexico and now are living on the streets. Estrella holds 3 pieces of chalk that can grant her 3 wishes but they have a tendency to be a “monkey’s paw” curse when they come true. Shine has been around longer and is more grounded in reality as a leader of the other kids in his group. When they obtain something that the local crime boss wants back; they are forced to confront their fears and take on things that no children should have to.
It would be hard to review this without mentioning how much of a Guillermo del Toro vibe that this gives off. The magical fantasy intruding upon an otherwise bleak reality is very Pan’s Labyrinth. The big difference is that it ends up being less of a focus and more something that pops up occasionally. Tigers Are Not Afraid is, at its core, a story about the terrors of the drug cartels and the collateral damage that they leave behind. Seeing how that has destroyed the lives of these children is where the horror lies, much more than the few traditional horror movie moments of ghosts and such that it has. The fantastical elements could all be seen as just the coping mechanism of a scared child but the movie doesn’t really give an answer one way or the other to whether or not they are real or just in Estrella’s head.
There are very few adults that show up and everything relies on the abilities of the child actors they got. Paola Lara does an exceptional job as Estrella as we see her coming to grips with losing her mother, adjusting to life on the streets, and becoming a part of a found family with the other children. The imagery is also so well done. Early in the film, Estrella see a dead man covered on the street but the blood is leaking out. When she leaves, a small line of blood follows after her and continues to do so for the whole movie as a representation of how, from that moment, death and tragedy are continuing to follow her in the story.
While certainly difficult to watch at times due to the sad nature of it I think this is a powerful film with a lot going for it and it manages to lighten up the mood with wonderful moments the children finding joy in small discoveries. I definitely recommend this.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5