The Old Ways: Indigenous Horror

Today, October 15th, marks the end of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States and the midpoint of the Halloween season, so what better way to recognize the moment than to watch and review a Mexican based horror film. Specifically, I am referring to The Old Ways recently released on Netflix streaming services.

The Old Ways opens with a young girl, Cristina, witnessing an exorcism being performed on her mother by a local Nahuatl bruja (witch) in her village in Verzcruz, Mexico. At first everything seems to be going well until the mother turns, lunges at Cristina, and scratches her arm. From there, we flash forward to an adult Cristina (played by Brigitte Kali Canales) waking up in chains in some remote hut in the Veracruzian jungle. She is completely confused and distorted questioning what is happening. A man by the name of Javi (played by Sal Lopez) enters the room and begins to interrogate Cristina asking her why she was in a region called La Boca (the Mouth). Cristina tries to answer the man but, after leaving Veracruz when she was younger, she cannot speak Spanish with any fluency, and thus cannot communicate with Javi. Luz (played by Julia Vera), a bruja, enters to examine Cristina, and upon looking into her eyes, declares that Cristina is possessed by a malevolent spirit. Of course, argues and fights back against what Javi and Luz attempt to do to her until her cousin, Miranda (played by Andrea Cortes), steps into the room and explains everything that has happened and is continuing to transpire.

Yeah, that would definitely freak me out first thing in the morning. Or in general.

From there, we see Cristina struggle against what is happening, her past mistakes and actions, and come to terms with the reality of her situation. Her forced captivity allows her the space to be introspective and grow into the woman she was meant to be. Eventually, Cristina allows Javi and Luz one last attempt to exorcise the spirit within her through a dangerous ritual that will release the entity and give it physical form so that it can finally be put down. This final confrontation comes with expected sacrifices and unexpected revelations and roles after the battle. The film concludes and continues with Cristina embracing her heritage and new position in this world.

The Old Ways is a great horror film, and film in general. It is obviously done on a budget with the small cast and few set locations, but it makes great use of every element involved in the film. The acting is superb, particularly from the lead. The writing and pacing is logical and builds tension well up to the climax and resolution of the film. Even the limited set designs and costumes are executed well and keeping with the indigenous story and background. Overall, the film highlights the narrative and artistic potential of previously ignored and underrepresented voices. Give it a watch as soon as you can and maybe find another film that does the same.

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