CUFF Review: Can’t-miss Mexican film Tigers Are Not Afraid puts a fantastical twist on grim subject matter

Get ready, folks. This one gets dark. Like, children-getting-murdered dark. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t see it. In fact, if you can handle the grim subject matter, you should definitely see Tigers Are Not Afraid.

We start off with text on screen, giving us some truly horrifying statistics. The so-called War on Drugs has had an unbelievable death toll in Mexico. In addition to the multitude of confirmed deaths, there are tens of thousands of people who are just missing. Gone without a trace. Most likely dead.

What happens to their children?

The protagonists of filmmaker Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid are young children. To call them “school kids” would be descriptive, but inaccurate, since the schools have become too dangerous to even attend. Estrella (Paola Lara) survived a shooting incident at her school, and is now terrified to stay at home since her mother disappeared. She finds a hostile, snarling gang of other street orphans, and begs to be allowed to join them. She simply has no place else to go. The orphans, led by scar-faced pre-teen Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez) are not the best ones to turn to, since they have stolen the gun and cell phone of a bloodthirsty (adult) gangster who wants his property back.

We see the film through the eyes of a terrified, imaginative youngster, and several fanciful VFX flourishes illustrate her state of mind. Graffiti comes to life, stuffed animals offer advice, and a trickle of blood ominously follows her down the hallways of the gutted buildings the homeless kids occupy. It’s a bit like the cheery hallucinations from Amelie, but put to much more frightening effect. These visions aren’t as grandiose as the ones in Pan’s Labyrinth, but they’re equally effective, and are outlandish enough to never confuse the audience over whether the images are “real” or not. It’s understated enough to be spectacular, if that makes sense.

You really don’t want to miss this one.

Tigers Are Not Afraid screens Tuesday, April 17 at 7:15 p.m. and Sunday, April 22 at 1:45 p.m. at the Globe Cinema as part of this year’s Calgary Underground Film Festival. For tickets and more information please click here

John Tebbutt is the Video Vulture. He has been writing about obscure and ridiculous cinema since 1997. You can keep up with his nonsense on his website, Facebook and Twitter.