Thursday, May 21, 2020

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (2017) Blu-ray Review

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017) d. Issa López (Mexico) (83 min)

Set against the backdrop of Mexico’s drug wars, this dark fairy tale follows Estrella (Paola Lara), whose school is closed due to a shooting, an act that unleashes a mysterious, potentially malevolent force that marks the young girl, tracking her to her home where she discovers that her mother has gone unexpectedly missing. She ultimately falls in with a group of similarly abandoned children, led by the fiery pre-teen Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez) who has stolen the cell phone (and pistol) of a former drug cartel member, an act that has the young gang running for their lives. Estrella, having been given “three magical wishes” by her schoolteacher, is tasked with facing one of the criminals as an initiation into Shine’s gang, an assignment that only escalates their perilous situation, leaving them pursued by dark forces both of this world and from beyond.

The buzz has been strong for Tigers since it premiered at Fantastic Fest in 2017, launching an enviable festival run that garnered fans from every corner of the globe, ranging from esteemed critics like Kim Newman to newly crowned Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro. The good news is that writer/director López’s exquisitely crafted gem lives up to the hype; it’s a small but powerful masterpiece that only becomes more of a miracle the closer it is examined.

Combining real-life horrors with fantasy elements is not uncommon within the horror genre, but rather than using the supernatural elements as heavy-handed metaphors, López layers them throughout her narrative with such deceptive ease and confidence. Viewers get so caught up in her storytelling that we forget that this is a) a low-budget independent effort b) employing a surprising amount of visual effects and c) where the main cast members are children with no previous acting experience. But instead of asking for forgiveness for their shortcomings, Lopez and her team do the impossible: they never fall short.

All of the production elements are top notch, ranging from Vince Pope’s musical score (alternating between urgent strings and somber tones) to Juan Jose Saravia’s gorgeous cinematography capturing the sun-kissed urban wastelands and the shadowy nighttime haunts with equal skill. Ana Solares (and whomever came up with the graffiti tiger image) deserves special notice for her production design, as does Joaquim Marti for his elegant editing, delivering a final cut that feels tight without being rushed, wholly capturing Estrella’s world within a mere 79 minutes plus credits. The young cast, led by the extraordinary Lara and Lopez, are sublimely charming and grounded, with much credit to acting coaches Fatima Toledo and Vinicius Zinn.

Then, of course, there is López, who has suddenly exploded into international consciousness despite toiling away within the Mexican film industry since the late 1990s. Echoing such classic efforts as Peter Pan (with Shine fearing loss of control over his lost boys to Estrella/Wendy’s maternal warmth) and del Toro’s period ghost stories like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, López imbues her piece with an immediacy that eschews nostalgia. These issues exist here and now, we hear her declaring with every dissolve, every cut, every lonely pan across the devastated landscape, every close-up of another young soul deprived of their childhood. As the end credits roll, the lingering question of “Now, what?” rings in our ears.

Because the problem isn’t going away.

And this isn’t just a fairy tale.

Already available for streaming on Shudder, RLJ Entertaiment’s physical media releases contain extensive bonus features including making-of featurettes, director’s commentary, never-before-seen casting sessions, deleted scenes, and photo galleries. The DVD/Blu-ray SteelBook also features a hour-long interview with López and del Toro following the film’s 2019 Toronto International Film Festival screening.


Audio Commentary with director Issa López

Making of Tigers Are Not Afraid (43 min)

TIFF interview with Guillermo del Toro and Issa López (63 min)

Deleted Scenes

Casting Sessions (4 min)

Photo Galleries

Tigers Are Not Afraid is available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Shudder and RLJE Films and can be ordered HERE:



  1. So glad to see you caught up with this one and liked & appreciated the actual film & themes quite a lot, it seems!

    1. Absolutely enjoyed it. When did you see it? Feels like it was out on the festival circuit for quite a while before making it to home video last year (and even longer before I caught up with it via DVD/BR).

    2. Yes, I believe the film had a successful festival run. It was during the 2018 edition of the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival were I first got to see it.

      I already had this intuition I would like it, yet knew nothing about it (other than a short synopsis and a brief glimpse at the trailer). More than expected, it resonated with me on many levels.

      Issa López was there as a guest, invited to present the film. As things turned out, we also met briefly and I ended up co-conducting the public Q&A session after the screening (which resulted into a great convo altogether - talkative and insightful - of nearly one hour long).

    3. On the DVD/Blu-ray, Issa is very articulate and passionate during the making-of and the interview at TIFF, so I'm envious that you got to interact with her during BIFFF. That's fantastic. It's even more impressive since she has been working in the industry for quite a while - it will be interesting to see what happens for her career now that she's had her "big break."