This week’s pick is something I heard about on a horror podcast and have had on my list for some time. It’s a pretty brutal fantasy horror which frankly, is right up my street but might not be your cup of tea if you’re averse to children being fatally harmed. Which would be fair enough.
Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)
“A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war”
Stars: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López, Nery Arredondo
*Lots and lots of spoilers*
Estrella (Lara) is a young girl living in a Mexican city devastated by the infamous Mexican Drug War. She’s at school learning about fairy tales when class is dismissed indefinitely due to violent gunfire outside the building. Amid the panic of the incident, the students and teachers are forced to dive for cover.
While on the floor, Estrella’s teacher gives her three pieces of chalk and tells her they will grant her three wishes.
Meanwhile, on the streets Shine (López) steals a gun and an iPhone from the henchman of crime boss Chino (who is actually well-known politician Servando Esparza). The henchman, Caco is fucked out of his nut so doesn’t notice the mugging or the fact that Shine seems keen to blow his head off. Luckily for Caco, Shine can’t pull the trigger.
Following her eventful day at school, Estrella returns home to find that her mother is nowhere to be found. She waits for days for her to return and grows increasingly worried/hungry. She fears her mother has fallen victim to The Huascas, a human-trafficking ring masterminded by Chino. She wishes that her mother would return and that night suffers horrible haunting visions of her.
The ghost implores Estrella to “bring him to us”. Later she catches Shine looting her apartment. When she confronts him, he shouts at her that her mother is dead.
Estrella follows Shine to his make shift home where he lives with his friends, other street orphans called Morro, Tucsi and Pop. Morro is super, super young and carries a toy tiger. She tells the boys that she’s hungry. Shine tells her he doesn’t care about her and is very anti having a girl around. Estrella sticks with the boys though and in particular, bonds with little Morro. Shine still has hold of the phone he stole (it has a photo of his mother on it) but by now it has become clear that the cartel know he has it and they vow to get it back at any cost.
When Morro is taken, Shine gives Estrella the gun and tells her if she kills Caco and gets him back, she can stay in the gang. She doesn’t want to do this but is eventually persuaded. She breaks into Caco’s apartment but wishes that she doesn’t have to kill him. When she approaches she realises he’s already been murdered. Estrella lets off the gun anyway and allows the boys to believe she’s killed him.
The kids are forced to go on the run when Caco’s brother comes after them and they start to wonder what’s on the phone that’s got their knickers in such a twist.
A lot goes on but the gist is that Morro is killed accidentally, the kids make a deal with Chino – to hand over the phone if he calls off The Huascas – and Shine finds a video on the phone of Chino murdering a woman. While the children deal with the loss of Morro, Chino reveals that he was the one that murdered Caco, thus revealing Estrella to be a flaming liar. Shine is particularly angry with her and the boys shun her.
Alone in the abandoned building the kids have been calling home, Estrella is once again haunted by ghosts, this time all the victims of Chino and his gang. They implore Estrella once again “bring him to us” – I think they want you to do something for them, love.
When the boys bury Morro, Estrella is lead back to them by Morro’s ghost.
The kids meet up with Chino and he holds up his end of the bargain, however Shine has worked out that the woman in the murder video is Estrella’s mother and he wants to tell her. He gives Chino a fake phone and he in turn murders every one of his henchmen.
In return for Shine’s kindess/honesty, Estrella uses her last wish to grant him what he wants – for her to remove the facial scar he sports from the tragic fire that also stole his mother’s life. She’d been reluctant up until now, convinced that each of the wishes has lead to something bad.
She’s not wrong though and she finds herself alone again (Tucsi and Pop are long gone, Shine is dead) and running from Chino who has worked out the double cross. Estrella is guided by Morro’s toy tiger to the room in which her mother was killed.
She finds a pile of hideously decaying corpses but tricks Chino into the room where the ghosts, including Shine have their way with him.
This film is truly gorgeous with some wonderful supernatural/fantastical imagery. Morro’s tiger is wonderfully animated, while there are some really effective scares. Every one of the children are brilliant, their gang is one you really warm to quickly. Shine is a very damaged boy who tries to be hard but hasn’t really got him in it, while Estrella is nails.
This is a very sad tale which has really opened my eyes to the trauma suffered by children forced to live with nothing on the streets. The end made me weep like a goddamn baby but I loved it.