Review by John Delia

“Since the beginning of the Mexican drug wars in 2006, 160,000 people have been killed and 53,000 have disappeared in Mexico. Entire areas of some cities are turning into ghost towns. There are no numbers for many children dead and the missing that have been left behind.” The Producers

Taking you into the slums of a small town in Mexico, the movie Tigers are Not Afraid brings you up-close to a group of destitute children orphaned by a narcotics and human trafficking gang. Told from one young girl’s viewpoint, it’s a very heartbreaking and disturbing film that’s well made with very good direction, acting and visually powerful cinematography.

11 year old Estrella (Paola Lara) has to write a fairy tale for an assignment at her school. She chooses a story about a Prince who wanted to be a tiger. She writes tigers never forget, they’re hunters, and their eyes can see in the dark. They have fangs to break bones. Tigers are not afraid. But the Prince couldn’t become a Tiger, because he had forgotten how to be a Prince. Little does she know, she’ll have to find that Prince and help him change in order for her to survive. Just as she finishes her story a shooting takes place at school and the classes get dismissed ending learning for her and others until further notice.

Shine (Juan Ramón López) in TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID from RLJE Films

Arriving home Estrella finds her mother (Viviana Amaya) has not come home from work. Furthermore, she doesn’t arrive at all that night. In her neighborhood lives Shine (Juan Ramón López), a 12 year old streetwise boy that hates the gangs for what they did to his family. He has banded with his young 6 year old brother Morrito (Nery Arredondo) and two friends his age, Tucsi (Hanssel Casillas) and Pop (Rodrigo Cortes). Homeless and orphans they survive by stealing and other ways to get food. When Shine breaks into Estrella’s house for food he tells her that the Huascas, a narcotics gang, has taken her mother. Estrella follows him to his shelter and begs to stay. But, there will be demands and consequences that she will have to meet.

Director and writer Issa Lopez developed the film from memories of her own childhood and others who were caught up in the same orphaned situations. She puts together a representative cast for her script that involves the players living a life of dealing with chances of death from those who would kidnap them and put them into slavery. Putting her young cast in tight situations, making critical decisions and running from the Huascas gang, the film gives some idea of what life in Mexico has come to for kids and their parents.

Estrella (Paola Lara) on her school room floor in TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID from RLJE Films

In order to pull it off, Lopez had to cast the right children for the roles and then train them how to act before a camera. It’s critical to the film that they look realistic for the parts and whether they can bring the emotion that the script demands. And she delivers, with great admiration, a powerful movie that grabs at your heartstrings and makes you shudder at how bad it must be in a country rampant with drug cartels.

Leading the cast both Paola Lara in her first full feature and Juan Ramón López in his first film ever nail their roles in this very compelling film. Under the wonderful direction of Issa Lopez along with child handler Fatima Toledo the youngsters are brilliant. Both give perfect acting arcs for Estrella and Shine and by midway have drawn the audience into an edge of your seat story that tops some of the big studio productions.

Tigers Are Not Afraid includes the following bonus features on Blu-ray and DVD:

“The Making of TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID” It’s a movie in itself with Producers Marco Polo Constandse and Carlos Taibo, Writer/Director Issa Lopez, Director of Photography Juan Jose Saravia, Film Editor Joaquim, actors Paola Lara and others that talk about how the story came about, breaking down scenes. I specifically liked the way Fatima Toledo handled the young actors with delicate measures making sure they understood their character was fictional and part of a movie. (45 min.)
”Casting Sessions”
”Director’s Commentary”
“Deleted Scenes”
“Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery”
“Concept Art Photo Gallery”
“Graffiti Art Photo Gallery”

Additional feature on Blu-ray Disc Only:

“Interview with Guillermo del Toro and Isla Lopez” reveals her background and how she came about making the film. The interview took place by del Toro at the at Toronto International Film Festival” (1 hr. 3 min. in English)

Estrella (Paola Lara) in TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID from RLJE Films

Tigers are Not Afraid has not been rated by the MPAA, but contains violence, language, disturbing images and brutality. The violence does look real and children get shot, so keep this in mind when thinking of allowing immature children to watch the film. The film plays out in Spanish with English Subtitles. Now on Blu-ray/DVD in a steelbox set.

FINAL ANALYSIS: All the right elements make this film a must see. (5 out of 5 stars)

Specifications and additional video information:
Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López, Nery Arredondo, Hanssel Casillas, Rodrigo Cortes, Ianis Guerrero and Viviana Amaya
Directed and Written by: Issa Lopez
Genre: Horror, Supernatural Thriller
MPAA Rating: Not Rated, contains violence, language, disturbing images and brutality
Running Time: 1 hr. 24 min.
Video Release Date: May 5, 2020
Language: English (Changeable to Spanish)
Reviewed Format: Blu-ray/DVD Steelbook
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 16×9, Aspect Ratio 2.39:1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Distributed by: Shudder, RLJE Films
Released on: Blu-ray/DVD Steelbook, DVD, Blu-ray

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