YES, writer and director Issa López’s first venture into horror is just as good as you’ve been hearing. Tigers Are Not Afraid is a fantastic dark fairy tale that blends the horror of real life with the supernatural for an unforgettable watch.
Shine (Juan Ramón López), and Estrella (Paola Lara) are two victims of the Mexican drug wars; both orphaned by local gang the Huascas. We meet Shine as he’s stealing a cell phone and gun from a very inebriated Huasca, and Estrella is introduced to us during a shooting near her school, in which the teacher hands her three pieces of chalk and tells her they are “wishes.”
Shine has created his own family of displaced kids; he takes care of his friends, including the littlest, four-year-old Moro, struck mute by the horrors he has witnessed. When Estrella arrives home from school, her mother is missing — and after a few days, she uses one of her wishes to bring her mom home; only what arrives isn’t quite what she hoped for.
Hungry and scared, Estrella reaches out to Shine for help. Unfortunately, the phone Shine has stolen contains evidence of a murder and the Huascas will stop at nothing to get it back. As the kids run from the gang, an ominous blood trails behind them, foreshadowing their fate — unless Estrella’s remaining wishes can save them.
Comparisons to Pan’s Labyrinth are inevitable, as both films use magical happenings as a means for kids to survive the terror of their everyday lives, but this isn’t an imitation of that — though clearly inspired Labyrinth, Lopez has her own style that radiates throughout. In fact, del Toro is such a fan that he’s working with Lopez on her next film (a werewolf western? I AM IN).
Anyway, YOU NEED TO SEE THIS FILM. Every scene is flat out gorgeous, and the kids are all AMAZING at drawing you into their world and making you feel for them. Was I a sobbing mess at the end? Absolutely. Was I also in awe of how seamlessly the magic blended into the story? Hell. Yes. Tigers is one of those films that takes your breath away while you’re watching and immerses you completely in its world. I cannot wait to revisit it, over and over again.
Tigers Are Not Afraid opens in Seattle Friday, September 6 at SIFF Cinemas. Get tix here.