GORE IN THE STORE
THE OLD WAYS ****
Directed by Christopher Alender.
Starring Brigitte Kali Canales, Andrea Cortes, Julia Veres.
Horror, US, 89 minutes.
Reviewed as part of FrightFest Glasgow 2021.
The exorcism film undergoes a smart, South American spin with director Christopher Alender’s THE OLD WAYS. Telling the story of Cristina, a young journalist who has returned to Mexico after leaving as a small child. Waking up chained to a bed in a cell in an unknown location with no memory of how she came to be there, Cristina soon comes face to face with her captors; who include a childhood friend and an intimidating old woman daubed in white and blood red face paint. This pair seem to think that there is something within Cristina, who is far more sceptical, despite disturbing memories from her childhood coming to the surface and the real, mysterious reason she has travelled back to her home country after avoiding it for practically her whole life.
What exactly is within Cristina and how the problem is explored gives THE OLD WAYS an interesting edge. The South American cultural angle, like last year’s LA LLORONA, is still fresh and unfamiliar enough for Western audiences that it manages to mostly avoid the well-worn exorcism genre tropes or at least present them in a stimulating way. This is a small-scale film mostly constrained to a limited location so the films success can be equally shared among its cast and behind the scenes talent. As Cristina, Brigitte Kali Canales makes for an appealing heroine, one who is as well written as any female character found in more heralded mainstream cinema. The unexpected details of her character contribute to a fully rounded portrayal and immensely satisfying character arc. Given less to work with on a character level but still impressive is Julia Vera as Luz, the aged “bruja” who makes the films biggest visual impression with her ghoulish face paint and dead eye that gains her a singular viewpoint to what she believes is at the root of Cristina’s problems.
The script by Marcos Gabriel does a good job of treading a fine line between the supernatural and the real world, causing the viewer, and Cristina, to wonder what is real and what is imagined. Alender’s direction is distinctive enough to distract the viewer from its near single location with his confident handling of presenting scares and the nicely staged exorcism scenes which also manage to throw in a number of unsettling sights. That Alender’s back catalogue is mainly populated with projects related to The Muppets makes the shocks and scares of THE OLD WAYS even more of an intriguing delight perhaps indicating that this is his true calling instead of handling Kermit and co.
Such grisly highlights involving a ritual described as a “psychic surgery” would seem to suggest that this may be the case. Among these scares is a well-managed emotional strain that runs throughout right up until its clever and rousing ending. A clever blend of character drama and supernatural thriller THE OLD WAYS can sit comfortably alongside such other recent examples of cultural horror such as THE VIGIL and HIS HOUSE. That it is just as successful shows that we could be slap bang in a new wave of horror committed to bringing new and unfamiliar perspectives to the genre, proving its ability to renew and refresh itself continuously.