Guillermo del Toro’s singular vision remains so significant that it feels present in films produced by him or in this case, influenced by him. Tigers Are Not Afraid is not a del Toro production yet writer/director Issa Lopez demonstrates the mix of fantasy and pragmatism present in his work while offering her own creative vision.
As opposed to the typical historical settings in a del Toro film, Tigers Are Not Afraid takes place in modern-day Mexico. It follows a group of orphaned children caught in the middle of a drug war. One of them, Estrella (Paola Lara), is given three magical wishes. Along with her newfound friends, she uses them to combat both the cartel trying to hunt them down and the ghosts that haunt her.
Everywhere these kids go, horror continues to lurk. However, the sinister cartel proves to be more frightening than the ghosts Estrella keeps seeing. While the ghosts continuously hide in the shadows, they still act as a strange guide for Estrella so that she and her friends can survive and a method of escapism from the crime she’s surrounded by.
In addition, the ghosts being kept in the darkness is due to dichotomous camera work from Juan Jose Saravia. When the film takes place during the day, the bright lighting Saravia captures signifies the distance between the living world and the dark supernatural world where the ghosts hide in. The bright of day is also geniusly deceptive since it masks the Hell that our main characters live in.
Yet, because they reside in a city where kids can hear gunshots while in school, even the brightest sunny day can’t entirely mask what affects their daily life. However, Issa Lopez still allows Estrella’s three wishes to play into the picture’s fairy tale notions and even weaves in small moments of flippancy to avoid making the film watching experience fully dour. One shouldn’t make no mistake, though, because there are parts which are immensely difficult to watch.
Despite the film depicting heavy subject matter, the child actors still carry it effectively. Especially Paola Lara as Estrella, a girl who clings to her imagination while trying to be brave amidst the horrors she’s faced with. Then there’s Juan Ramon Lopez as Shine, the leader of the group of kids that Estrella joins. His performance as a traumatized child out for vengeance offers a mix of vulnerability and tragic indignation.
It’s a devastating portrayal that encapsulates the tone of the movie itself. Tigers Are Not Afraid is an uncompromising journey into the heart of crime life done with magical realism. It shows that imagination can be a form of reverie even if it can’t be used to completely hide from the harshness of one’s situation. It’s a tough world out there with some having it tougher than others, but it can still be challenged.