The Old Ways (CFF) Does Something New
Title: The Old Ways
First Wide Release: August 25, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Christopher Alender
Writer: Marcos Gabriel
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Starring: Brigitte Kali Canales, Andrea Cortés, Julia Vera
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening in the Chattanooga Film Festival 2021.
Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) is brought to her childhood home in Veracruz for a work assignment. There, she hopes to cover the mystical origins of a cave deep within in the rainforest. The next thing she knows, she awakens to find herself in a witch doctor’s home, chained to a bed. She manages to convince her captors to contact her cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortés) to get her. Miranda breaks the news to Cristina that they believe there is a demon inside of her and they have to exorcise it out of her before it is too late.
The Old Ways is a wonderfully crafted possession horror dripping in fascinating Mexican folklore world building and terrifying imagery.
Beginning in media res, The Old Ways structures itself as a possession horror with a different angle and it delivers on this promise. As we learn more about Cristina, both in flashbacks and through her current dilemma, we find her character growing into something stronger than a typical lead in this sort of flick. It feels a bit chaotic at first, but it makes way to give added realism and reason to Cristina while also increasing the tension. Soon enough, we are transported into a world of supernatural terror anchored by a small, great cast, damn good demon effects, and a little bit of dry comedy peppered in for good measure.
The Old Ways has a lot of impactful messages that makes for both an engaging and important watch. The easiest metaphor to pick up on is the comparison of drug use and demonic possession, which isn’t too uncommon in the subgenre. There are also some hints of general mental health compared to possession as well: the feeling of emptiness, the traumatic event that shapes people, the distancing from loved ones, using drugs as a coping mechanism.
These ideas get tied together with the theme of reconnecting with your heritage. Cristina has pretty much separated herself completely from her upbringing to the point where she never contacts her relatives, lost Spanish fluency, and has no social understanding of the mores, but through her trip back to her ancestral home she finds this connection through a traumatic experience and finds so much value in it that she continues “the old ways.”
Cristina’s character arc is both heartbreaking and joyous at the same time. She is easy to sympathize with despite her reluctance to take control of her life and even as she makes mistakes. We learn more about her and discover what’s hardened and pushed her to be reckless. It’s actually because of this sequence of events that she’s compelling. She isn’t a cookie cutter protagonist that screams puritanism. Her drug addiction, her depression, her need for control show, how she’s been haunted by the death of her mother, how she never fully recovered, are all great dimensions of depth for her. It’s beautiful when you think of how the film lays out its themes and blends them seamlessly into her character. Canales does wonderful work here as well, deftly conveying her rich backstory while selling the supernatural horror she must confront.
Sentimental and deeply human, The Old Ways bridges generations with a terrifying story of reconnecting with your past and seeking to make up for mistakes. By far the most impressive aspect of this film is how polished it is and looks. Excellent acting, cinematography, special effects, storytelling, everything is just exceptional. That being said, while The Old Ways is a certifiably well-executed and charming horror film, I did find myself wanting more from it. I think this is definitely a me thing and not anything to do with the film itself, because as I have mentioned previously it is well-done. Please do not let that stop you from checking out this movie! I am so excited for The Old Ways to reach a wider audience now that I hear Netflix is releasing it in August. If you’re itching for something new, prioritize The Old Ways.
Overall Score? 7/10