TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID — Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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tifers are not afraid posterWith her 2017 feature Tigers are Not Afraid, Mexican filmmaker Issa López became the first woman to ever win the Best Horror Director award at Austin’s Fantastic Fest where it premiered. López’s potent and deeply beautiful film tells the story of a group of children abandoned as a result of the brutal dominance of a powerful drug cartel in their urban Mexican neighbourhood. Centred around an extraordinary performance by young actor Paola Lara in her feature film debut, she plays eleven-year-old Estrella who – like many of the children with whom she unites in an attempt to survive a world of unimaginable violence and pain – while often fearless, must necessarily negotiate her experiences from her youthful perspective.

This very subjectivity is sympathetically nuanced to a near-miraculous degree by López: Tigers Are Not Afraid utilizes a fairy-tale-like fantastic imaginary through which Estrella and her peers attempt to find a way to survive. Heartbreaking, thought-provoking and exquisitely beautiful in equal measure, López unflinchingly rejects the fetishization of young people and their experiences so typical of narratives about childhood trauma. Instead, she replaces it with compassion, intelligence and artistry of a purity and uniqueness that is very much her own, justifying in large part why the film has received such an impressive haul of award wins and nominations around the world, including Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Actress at the Screamfest Horror Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Travelling within North America and internationally ever since and playing to equally enthralled audiences, it recently stunned cinema-goers at the Melbourne International Film Festival, and will have its New York debut at the Film Society Lincoln Center on August 21 as part of their Scary Movies XI program.

With industry fans including Stephen King and fellow Mexican genre director Guillermo del Toro, it is unsurprising that based on López’s formidable talents on display in Tigers Are Not Afraid that Del Toro has announced an upcoming collaborative project between the two. Based on the calibre of their respective filmographies, this uniting of two of Mexico’s strongest filmmaking visionaries almost guarantees one of the most highly anticipated and promising upcoming projects from anywhere in the world.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tigers Are Not Afraid is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for September 6, 2019

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).