05th Mar2021

Frightfest Glasgow 2021: ‘The Old Ways’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Brigitte Kali Canales, Andrea Cortés, Julia Vera, Sal Lopez, AJ Bowen, Weston Meredith | Written by Marcos Gabriel | Directed by Christopher Alender

Directed by Christopher Alender, this US-produced horror offers a Latin American twist on the standard possession story. The result is an engaging and unsettling horror that successfully gets under your skin and throws in some strong allegorical resonance for good measure.

After a short prologue, The Old Ways opens with a bold move, whereby the story ditches the usual character introduction and set-up in favour of jumping straight into the action. American – but Mexico-born – journalist Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) awakens to find herself tied up and held against her will in a small room. It quickly transpires that she’s been kidnapped by a group of mysterious locals – including Luz (Julia Vera) and her adult son Javi (Sal Lopez) – who believe that she’s possessed by a demon and intend to perform an exorcism.

Canales (who had a small part in Baby Driver) turns in a compelling performance as Cristina, nailing every stage of her character’s tension-fraught journey. There’s also strong support from Vera (who’s given a layer of extra creepiness thanks to a whited-out-eye effect) and from Andrea Cortés as Cristina’s cousin Miranda, who’s initially brought in to prove Cristina’s claims of a local connection.

The Old Ways looks impressive throughout, thanks to effective use of shadow and darkness from cinematographer Adam Lee. Similarly, Alender proves that he can marshal a decent jump scare with the best of them (there are several), as well as ratcheting up tension through a painstaking attention to detail on the various rituals.

On top of that, the gore effects are extremely impressive, making the audience wince and perhaps gag in all the right places. There’s a visual imagination at play here too, accentuated by some striking make-up that is worked into the exorcism rituals.

The script has a number of emotionally resonant points to make about addiction, recovery and denial, while also exploring issues of identity, heritage and female empowerment. Initially it seems as if Cristina will be the victim of witchcraft, but the truth is much more complex and the way the film differs from the expected plot direction is consistently intriguing.

In addition, Alender makes terrific use of what is essentially a single location – the room in which Cristina is being held captive and a kitchen common area in the same house. That restricted space heightens the already intense claustrophobia, while at the same time, Alender mines every inch of shadow for the suggestion of something evil lurking just out of sight.

The film’s main problem is that it’s frequently a little too repetitive, especially in the middle section, where it starts to feel like you’re watching a 90 minute exorcism. There’s also a particular diversion that risks drawing attention away from the main plot and almost tips the film into needlessly silly territory. That said, the film rallies for a strong finish, even if the ending strays a little too far into standard Hollywood territory, like they suddenly decided that maybe they wanted a sequel.

*** 3/5

The Old Ways screened today as part of Glasgow Frightfest 2021.


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