Taking inspiration from #GuillermodelToro’s Spanish-language classics, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, Tigers Are Not Afraid embraces all the aspects of #filmmaking that made those movies great, and utilises and adapts them to fit its own narrative; creating a film which is not only able to stand on its own two feet, but easily surpasses many big production movies. A real triumph of independent filmmaking and one of the most stunning and beautiful films I’ve ever seen.
The film follows Estrella, a young girl living in a war-torn Mexican city during the drug war, and can be best described as a dark fairytale. Disappearances and deaths are an everyday occurrence here: in the opening scenes, whilst Estrella sits in her classroom at school, a gunman enters the building: shots and screams ring out through the hallways, sending Estrella and her classmates diving for cover under their desks. It's here that her teacher – in an attempt to comfort her – gives her three wishes to keep her safe. As she walks home, a badly-covered body with obvious gunshot wounds lays on the street corner guarded by police.
It's a fantastically brutal introduction to Estrella's existence, which is only about to get worse. Arriving home, Estrella finds her mother has disappeared, and, after waiting for a couple of days, wishes she would come back. And she does, but as a frightening spectre with a grotesque and distorted visage; forcing Estrella out of her home and to seek safety with a group of boys who have also been orphaned by the gang violence.
Tigers Are Not Afraid features what must be one of the most extraordinary child-centric casts ever committed to screen; made all the more impressive when you learn none of the children had any acting experience before starring in this film. Each one of them seems to be haunted by ghosts of the past; hardly surprising when you’re surrounded by so much violence and death. But most importantly, they’re a family; they play games, tell jokes and stories; they take care and comfort one another when they feel scared. Really though the film could have been about any one of the group; they’re all so engaging and bring something unique to the film: and, like The Goonies or Stand by Me before it, everyone is bound to find their favourite amongst them.
Guillermo del Toro is one of the greatest visionary directors working today: the cinematography on display in his films is second to none, and nothing appears on-screen by mistake; his famous eye protein technique. This is exactly the feeling I got watching Tigers Are Not Afraid. I need to see it again. There’s no way I saw everything first time around; so much is hidden away in the background. Little snippets of foreshadowing are dotted around the beautifully eerie cityscapes and the forsaken, deserted look of its streets and buildings combined with the #fairytale elements conjure a dark, gritty, otherworldly ambience; comparable to that of Pan’s Labyrinth. And as the fantastical and actual begin to criss-cross, we’re left wondering—just how much is real?
I went into this film with ridiculously high expectations; never a good thing to do: it means films have little to no chance of actually living up to them. But Tigers Are Not Afraid did: not only that, but it far exceeded them.
Beautifully made, dark and magical; a heart-breaking exploration of a child’s courage and imagination in the most appalling of situations.
I fell in love with the children’s characters, and I fell in love with their plight, their story: I fell in love with the gorgeous, almost #gothic, macabre visuals and haunting score: and by the end, it had me completely swept up and invested in its world. I laughed, I winced, and I cried.
Tigers Are Not Afraid is an incredibly special film; a masterpiece of independent filmmaking which would make even the most well-regarded of directors blush.