PICTURED: From left: Paola Lara, Rodrigo Cortes and Hanssel Casillas. (Filmadora Nacional/IMDb/TNS)

by Tim Pompey

Tigers Are Not Afraid 
(Video, Prime Amazon)
Spanish with English subtitles
Directed by Issa López
Starring: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López
Rated NR
1 hr., 23 mins.

Mexican director Issa López provides a tight little drama set in the heart of an anonymous metropolis. It’s both a fable and a metaphor for the violent darkness that has arisen from the gang violence and drug cartels that have beset Northern Mexico in the last 20 years. But López has broadened this tale with a touch of magical realism and a thought-provoking essay on bloody human madness.

López has done the unthinkable: left children unprotected, ripped by cynicism and riddled with mistrust for any hope of justice in the world. In short, she questions faith in adult humanity and leaves the children to suffer for it.

The four orphan boys — Shine (Juan Ramón López), Morro (Nery Arredondo), Tucsi (Hanssel Casillas) and Pop (Rodrigo Cortes) — have become brothers foraging for food and protecting each other against street violence. Shine steals a phone and a gun from one of the local “Huascas” gang members, Caco (Ianis Guerrero), while Caco drunkenly urinates outside a local bar. The phone carries video of a murder. When local gang leader and politician El Chino (Tenoch Huerta) aka Servando Esparza discovers the orphans have stolen the phone, he launches an all-out assault to retrieve it.

Estrella (Paola Lara) attends a local school. When a gang shooting occurs outside her classroom, the children duck under their desks. A staff member, fearing she will die, hands Estrella three pieces of chalk and tells her that she has been granted three wishes. When Estrella goes home, she discovers that her mother is missing and her house is haunted.

After Estrella catches Shine stealing from her house, she follows him back and, despite the boys’ protests, joins them on the streets. It turns out that Shine and Estrella have this in common: They both tell stories about tigers, monsters and princes. López turns these stories into a film.

What draws one into this film is the realism of the emotions that the children experience. They’re not child actors. They are children asked to provide real emotions: fear, anger, loss, grief and, most of all, faith. There is no script here. López is encouraging them to find their real soul.

They’re also not immune from the evils of the city, which raises the question: When children lose faith, are adults to blame? When Shine states plainly that there are no such thing as “wishes,” is he right? 

Short in time, Tigers packs a lot into its 84 minutes’ worth of frames. Scary? Not in the true horror sense, but the horror of this film is in the death and destruction of its human combatants. The ghosts in this story seek justice. By the end, when they’re finally revealed, the true horror of our world is magnified. There’s no happy ending here. But you won’t walk away untouched either. All of which leads back to Shine’s dilemma: Do you believe in wishes? That, as it turns out, is an excellent question.

Out of the Box is a semi-regular column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.