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Set amidst the drug war violence of Mexico, this film will break your heart, make you believe in ghosts, and make you stand up and cheer.

ABOUT THE FLANAGAN FILM FEST
Near the start of quarantine, filmmaker Mike Flanagan made a list for Rotten Tomatoes of his favorite lesser-known indie horror gems he hoped people would check out while they were stuck at home. While many came to discover and fall in love with Flanagan as a result of his horror work in television, but he began his career in the indie film world, and that’s where his heart still lies. He attributes his early success due to great word of mouth for his films and support from genre fans. So, he created a list of 14 of his favorite indie horror gems of recent years that he hopes more people will see and support. In honor of Flanagan’s birthday month (May 20th), we’ll be sharing a film a day for 14 days from his indie watch list and letting you know why we think you should check it out!

Tigers Are Not Afraid is a chilling and dark fairy tale horror film. Writer/director Issa Lopez has built the kind of fantasy world, that just stepping into it for the brief run of the film will leave you forever changed.

Tigers Are Not Afraid has become one of my favorite films of all time. I saw it the first time at the Overlook Film Festival and fell in love with these five brave children doing their best to survive under the direst of circumstances. I totally understand why Mike would put this on his essential horror film list. It would have to be on mine as well!

I have been to Mexico and seen terrible things. I am not talking about the touristy beach towns; I am talking about Tijuana and similar towns all through Mexico, where the drug cartel rules the streets and people die daily. Sadly, the drug wars are a real thing and just as brutal as they look on the news.

Years ago, I was part of a group that would go across the border, bringing clothes, toys, and food to an orphanage. I have seen the poverty of families living in houses built out of rubbish and bullet casings littering the gutters. It was quite an eye-opening experience for a young Cali girl.

This sad and dismal world is the background for Tigers Are Not Afraid.

Issa López penned a beautiful and heartbreaking film about five orphaned children who ended up creating their own gang and are forced to live in the streets amongst the rubble of what used to be their homes.

Often compared to films by Guillermo Del Toro, I agree that it is just as wonderfully fantastic, but this film has its own heart and originality. This is no copy of anyone else’s story.

Tigers Are Not Afraid starts at a school, where the children are forced to hide under their desks when gunshots ring out directly outside their window. The children are terrified, and here we meet one of the students, a young girl named Estrella. (Paola Lara) While lying on the floor, her teacher slides her three pieces of chalk and tells her they are wishes, to comfort her. Later, when Estrella goes to her apartment, she finds her mother is missing and tries out her first wish; for her mother to come home.

But wishes do not always work out the way they are expected to. Estrella has literally awoken the dead, and she flees from her home in fear.

”There is a place where innocence and fantasy are the only escape.”

Abandoned in a desolate world, Estrella tries to make sense of it all. Not wanting to be alone, and afraid of the ghosts she ran away from, she talks her way into joining a small gang of boys who are living on a rooftop nearby. These boys are orphans, too, and doing their best to survive by surrounding themselves with the broken pieces of their town. Empty TVs make good puppet stages. Battery-powered lighting, old toys, and bedding create a semblance of home. They forage for food daily.

One of the little boys is only about 5 years old. The shot of him riding along on a tricycle, behind the older boys pushing their shopping cart of treasures, was so powerful. I started crying then and was sniffling my way through the rest of the film.

At first, the gang lead by the moody El Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez) does not want to let Estrella in. But just like Peter Pan and the lost boys take in Wendy, so does this group of resourceful children accept Estrella into their fold. Naïve at first, Estrella grows quickly into a fighter. Every day is a battle for their lives, with the evil El Chino (Tenoch Huerta), the Los Huascas cartel sect leader, always after them.

What is unique about this film is the use of animation.

What could have come off as silly, works beautifully.

With CGI, we usually get monsters. But here, the monsters are human. We are watching this through the children’s eyes. Thus, when seeing a tiger come to life, or a gold snake slither off a bad guy’s gun, we are forced to remember this is how a child would cope. How else could you deal with the atrocities you see daily in this war-torn world, but think like a child? You find time to play, tell fairy tales, and dream good dreams. The nightmare when they wake will still be there, but maybe they can heal a tiny bit while asleep.

This is a somber tale of innocence lost.

The children eventually must face the gangsters that rule their world and stole their parents away from them. With some help from Estrella’s wishes and some angry spirits that may or may not just be in Estrella’s mind, justice is served.

I do not want to give more away, but the film has a very satisfying finale, even as it breaks your heart.

I love everything about this film.

From the beautiful cinematography to the awesome score and the child actors who I cannot believe had little or no acting experience before this. This is an epic fantasy that found its way into my heart and will be one of my favorite films forever!

Tigers Are Not Afraid is about real-life horror seen through the eyes of the children who are in the middle of it. The evils they had to endure are never-ending. This is a magical yet terrifying story about what these unfortunate orphans had to deal with while trying to survive on their own. I cannot comprehend how they even did it.

Issa Lopez’s world has characters you cannot help but love and others we hate so much it hurts. I love that the actual children in Mexico, that have had to go through this, are now given a voice. This enchanting film will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies)

WHERE TO WATCH
In the US, you are currently able to stream Tigers Are Not Afraid on Shudder, Shudder Amazon Channel, Pantaya, Pantaya Amazon Channel, DIRECTV, and AMC Plus. However, if you are able, consider doing what Mike Flanagan suggests and rent or buy the film to help make sure more amazing films like this can get made in the future. You can buy or rent Tigers Are Not Afraid on Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Amazon Video, Microsoft Store, or YouTube.

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