By Ariel Fisher
Issa López’s acclaimed Tigers Are Not Afraid opened the 13th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and hit with an emotional wallop. Having debuted at Fantastic Fest in 2017, it has since played the festival circuit to great acclaim. It’s acquired fans in the likes of Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro, the latter of which is now officially on board to produce López’s next feature. With her penchant for realism laced with fantasy, it’s no wonder. The two filmmakers are cut from the same cloth, as evidenced by this moving and challenging film.
Set against the backdrop of cartel wars currently plaguing Mexican border towns, the film follows Estrella (Paola Lara), a 10-year-old girl whose mother disappears, leaving her to try and find a way to survive. Enter Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez) and his band of lost boys, Tucsi (Hanssel Casillas), Pop (Rodrigo Cortes) and Morro (Nery Arredondo). These orphaned misfits have turned to theft in order to survive, stealing what they need for food, shelter, and grifting in order to make whatever money they can. After Shine steals the gun and phone of Caco (Ianis Guerrero), a member of the gang known as Los Huascas notorious for kidnapping, murdering, and maiming men, women and children, they enter a new world of trouble.
In a rare turn, Tigers Are Not Afraid offers something new to the Toronto After Dark roster: emotion. Where other films that have come before it have stuck quite closely to traditional horror tropes, Tigers ventures into more nuanced territory, and will certainly have audiences sobbing throughout. Peppered with the fantasy-laced realism we’ve come to expect from auteurs like del Toro, the film stands strong in its convictions, with stunning performances from its young actors. Though the film occasionally suffers from poor pacing, and the fantastical elements often feel as though they should be more firmly grounded, this Peter Pan-esque horror fairytale offers a wealth of pathos that will surely touch audiences of all walks of life.