The Old Ways
6 Nov 2021
Brigitte Kali Canales, Andrea Cortes, Julia Vera
Ancient traditions collide with innovative and inventive filmmaking in Christopher Alender’s The Old Ways, a Latin exorcism horror that revels in staying true a Mexican folk vibe whilst inverting horror tropes.
Young reporter Cristina Lopez (Brigitte Kali Canales) finds herself trapped in a remote village with a silent captor Javi (Sal Lopez). When her long-lost sister Miranda (Andrea Cortes) informs her that the villagers believe she is possessed by a demon, Cristina’s scepticism drives her efforts to escape. But as dark visions formulating, the salvation offered by shaman Luz (Julia Vera) might be her only hope…
The Old Ways feels, ironically, like a fresh take on a well-worn brand of horror. Exorcism movies have always struggled to match William Friedkin’s genre-definer, but Christopher Alender wisely eschews the classic template in favour of a film which feels like an action-thriller as much as a horror. Despite establishing the villagers as antagonists, the film decides to take a very different and welcome road with its characters – and the alliance Cristina ends up forming with them to fight her unwelcome passenger is a genuinely intriguing development for a genre so usually fixated on divisions between exorciser and possessed.
Those looking for visceral terror will feel a little short-changed, as the film is not all that scary compared to its contemporaries. Body horror is used throughout well and is the film’s biggest source of scares. However other scary scenes are almost experimental, and more intriguing than scare-inducing. One involving snakes will only really chill Ophidiophobics (thanks google), but the fact the scene is filmed in daylight rather than darkness makes it an unusual visual experience. Where the film lacks in scares, it makes up for in horror innovation and novelty.
Thematically, the film is a mixed-bag. Viewers are practically beaten around the head with allegories for Cristina’s drug use – with the importance of acknowledging your problems, a support network, and direct confrontation of the demon itself (as well as suggestions of parental inheritance) all clear metaphors – made all the clearer when an uncharacteristic needle-abusing habit is revealed. But despite strong analogies, her addiction only rears its head at convenient, plot-demanding moments, and never really feels natural for the story. The theme of killing off old ways to make way for the new is also at the heart of the story – most evidently in a brilliant scene in which Cristina and Javi play dominos. Though outside of this moment, the theme is much more muddled and the film never really feels like it knows what it wants to say in regards to modernisation vs tradition. A late scene with Cristina and her boss Carson (AJ Bowen) suffers most obviously here, and makes for a confusing and unfitting end.
Performances are largely strong and engaging. Brigitte Kali Canales finds a real groove in the film after an unconvincing start, and the film’s decision to put her at the centre of events is a wise one as she endears herself to the audience. Her chemistry with Andrea Cortes also saves the film’s ending from descending into a boring horror-chase-in-the-dark that we’ve all seen before, with the wholesome, carefully-paced bridge-building paying off. Sal Lopez is brilliantly stoic as always, and Julia Vera kicks demonic ass as Luz. It’s a shame AJ Bowen’s Carson does not receive as much development as the rest of the cast, which hurts the film’s conclusion.
The Old Ways isn’t perfect, but is brave enough to take chances which stand it out from the crowd. The film has clearly learnt from horror’s ‘old ways’, and used them to innovate and produce an original story with an old-world Mexican feel.