Toronto After Dark Review: Tigers Are Not Afraid

Tigers Are Not Afraid

9 out of 10

The 2018 Toronto After Dark Festival kicks off this week (and runs through to October ) with a screening of one of the best foreign films of the year, writer-director Issa López haunting, violent, and resoundingly timely modern fairy tale Tigers Are Not Afraid.

Set against the backdrop of the current cartel wars that are plaguing Mexican border towns, Tigers Are Not Afraid tells the story of ten year old Estrella (Paola Lara), whose school is closed after getting caught in the crossfire of a gunfight, only to return home to discover that her mother has gone missing, presumably as a result of gang activity. She joins up with a band of homeless, thieving lost boys who find themselves similarly parentless and helpless. Armed with three wishes given to her by her teacher (all of which come with potentially grave consequences), Estrella wants to find out what happened to her mother, and to protect her new friends from a ruthless kingpin (Tenoch Huerta) who wants to retrieve a phone they stole that has some incriminating evidence on it.

One of the few films ever to play Toronto After Dark that will probably make audiences reach for some Kleenex instead of using their hands to cover their eyes in terror, Tigers Are Not Afraid plays like a collaboration between Guillermo del Toro and Taylor Sheridan, only possibly even better than that sounds. The supernatural scares and mystical elements (which include a blood trail that follows Estrella around, a helpful, anthropomorphised stuffed animal, and a gruesome, frequently reappearing corpse) aren’t nearly as harrowing as the sudden, shocking bursts of realistic violence. The balance between the genre elements and gritty drama nets López her best film to date. She’s created a wholly unique and deeply moving film that takes its cues from real life fears.

Equally praiseworthy are Lara’s strong willed, but deeply frightened lead and Juan Ramón López as the grizzled leader of the young gang, someone who knows all too well what the cartels are capable of. They’re both newcomers, but they’re delivering seasoned performances that most veterans would have trouble approximating.

It’s no surprise this has been racking up a considerable amount of awards in Mexico.

Tigers Are Not Afraid screens as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival on Thursday, October 11, 2018 at 7:00 pm at Scotiabank Theatre.

Check out the trailer for Tigers Are Not Afraid:

Andrew Parker
Andrew Parker fell in love with film growing up across the street from a movie theatre. He began writing professionally about film at the age of fourteen, and has been following his passions ever since. His writing has been showcased at various online outlets, as well as in The Globe and Mail, BeatRoute, and NOW Magazine. If he's not watching something or reading something, he's probably sleeping.