It takes a lot to scare me. I’m a seasoned movie goer who, before the time of the coronavirus, would go to scary movies in the mornings on my days off. I would complain to my friends that there were no other people in the theater but when no one came I got a thrill at being alone. It was just me and the screen. And in another time, I would’ve done the same thing with The Old Ways.
That being said, I wouldn’t watch this movie in the dark, all alone, and with no one to hold my hand or rescue me when spooks come knocking after the lead is kidnapped because she’s got a “demon” inside of her.. That’s how scary I think this movie is and how big of an impression it left on me when the credits started rolling. Now that it’s turning dark, as I write this, I understand how much of a favor I did myself by watching this in the daytime.
Scary movies nowadays rely too much on flashy creatures and jump scares. The creatures usually get more development than the actual storyline. And the jump scares happen left and right, overtaking dialogue and pulling us away from what’s actually happening in the story because we’re just waiting for the next scare, the next jump.
The Old Ways, directed by Christopher Alender and written by Marcos Gabriel, understands an audience’s need for these two things and flips it completely on its head. You do not spend the entirety of this movie looking for jump scares. If anything, the anticipation that you get from the dark corner on the other side of the room, where you know something is standing at, is scarier than any moments where something jumps out at you in this movie.
And then there’s the “creature” of this feature. The Old Ways doesn’t go for flashy or ignores that different cultures have different tales of caution and creatures of their own. It understands that things like this need to be built up, slowly but surely, until the creature/demon in your mind is scarier than the one being presented to you on screen. That’s not to say they didn’t do a good job with this creature/demon. It was scary AF with a Latinx twist. But I appreciate the forms it took before it’s true self was revealed.
Tying all of this together is the outstanding performance by our leading Latina Brigitte Kali Canales, who plays Cristina.. Her character is lost when this movie starts, coming to Mexico in a time of need before she was kidnapped. What she discovers along the way is this fire that burns inside her and that no demon or bruja can snuff out. And I could see that fire growing every time she fought, advocated, or tried for herself and eventually for when she did for the benefit of others.
That’s what makes The Old Ways extraordinary and unlike any other exorcism style kind of movie out there. This is a coming of age story in the most unexpected of places. The Cristina of this movie when it starts is completely different from the one we get at the end. And joining her on this journey made me think of the strange paths life has taken me down where I have found myself.
So, watch out, dear reader.
Keep an eye out for when The Old Ways hits a streaming platform near you. You won’t regret it. And if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy it, understand it, and come out with an even bigger appreciation for horror movies with substance, style, and a rich story that leaves you intrigued and wanting more.