Sitges Film Festival Review: THE OLD WAYS

By Liz Lopez

Rating: B+

There have been several horror cinematic efforts to convey aspects of the Mexican culture when it comes to rituals for healing, often labeled as witchcraft by individuals who are not familiar with the culture and/or how some maladies are cured before modern medicine of the West was introduced.  Some scripts are not as successful when the healer or “curandera” is depicted as a “witch” who is there only to do harm. I recall as a child hearing the phrase “tiene el diablo por dentro” or “he has the devil within” when referring to a person who is quite meanspirited, malicious and in a habit of not doing the right thing.  Director Christopher Alender (“Muppets Now” TV series, “Memorial Day”) and screenwriter Marcos Gabriel (collaborator with Alender in TV/film) tell a captivating story in “The Old Ways” about fighting demons, not just the ones anticipated in a horror film, but also addiction, likely PTSD and finding a way back home. The film as a whole feels much more authentic than others with regard to the cast and characters. The protagonist, Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) and the locals in the remote village, her cousin, Miranda (Andrea Cortés), Luz (Julia Vera) and Luz’s adult son Javi (Sal Lopez). Someone unfamiliar with the rituals of healing individuals thought to be possessed (as seen in the film) will most likely label this as “brujeria” or witchcraft, but these healers are not there to do harm, in fact the opposite. The script is written well and keeps the audience engaged without heavy use of the bumps and thuds heard in similar films. The ending leaves the viewer ready to see what Cristina will do in the next chapter of her life. The casting of veteran actors paired with younger rising stars is perfect.       

A journalist in the US, Cristina goes to Mexico on an assignment convincing her employers she would be able to conduct research easily since she was born there and has sources, her cousin, Miranda (Cortés). What the audience soon learns is that Cristina has not been back to the village in at least two decades after witnessing an exorcism on her mother. Unfortunately, when she contacted Miranda about her job, she did not heed advice about wandering about. Cristina wakes to find herself held against her will.

Apparently, the visit in a cave that was forbidden by Miranda yielded an opportunity for a demon to take possession of Cristina. The people she assumes are kidnappers, Luz (Vera), the village healer and Javi (Lopez), are holding her to cure her by removing the evil inside. Cristina resists this notion and tries to escape from the shack and her life as she secures her small stash of drugs. The question may arise within the audience if there is a demon or is it the drugs that cause her to see and experience what surrounds her. The camera pans to the dark corners of the shack and the silence itself is frightening.    

Many of the scenes in the film take place in the small hut where she is held and the addition of chalk drawings of demons believed to possess the character enhances the design and what the audience may soon come to expect. Cristina has a fighting spirit throughout her experience, and she learns more about herself, the culture she left behind, and why the old ways should not be cast off and forgotten.    

Source: Soapbox Films


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