The Old Ways

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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The Old Ways (2021, dir: Christopher Alender; script: Marcos Gabriel; cast: Brigitte Kali Canales, Andrea Cortes, Julia Vera, Sal Lopez)





The Old Ways follows an economic model common to low-budget horror films. Tell a story with a small group of actors in a single location. In this case, a house in the Mexican jungle (The Old Ways was shot in California and Puerto Rico.) Most of the film was shot in one room. And apart from a few bit players and extras, only four characters have significant roles.

Despite these constraints, the tale is well told. Writer Marcos Gabriel wisely does away with exposition and introductory chit-chat, plunging us straight into the story. After the opening credits, we see Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) inside a room, chained to the floor, with a sack over her head. We quickly learn that she is an American reporter of Mexican heritage who came looking for a story, and has apparently been kidnapped.

Cristina thinks her captors want money. But no. One of her captors is her cousin, Miranda (Andrea Cortes), who believes that Cristina is demon possessed. The other two captors are a local bruja (witch) named Luz (Julia Vera) and her son Javi (Sal Lopez). Together, they intend to exorcise the demon.

The Old Ways's opening evokes Saw. A victim chained in a decrepit room, awaiting torture. At first it looks like Cristina is being held by lunatics who will torment her with their bizarre rituals. But this being a horror film, I suspected that maybe the normal appearing Cristina was in fact possessed. The first clue was her drug habit. And indeed, before the film's midway point, it becomes apparent that she is.

What follows is a standard exorcism film. Yes, there are variations. Instead of a Catholic priest, we have a Santeria type bruja. But there are the usual special effects. Demonic forces and white magic portrayed as smoke, sparks, or colored mist. We have the bodily contortions of the possessed. The burn marks on an arm that has been touched by a demon. We even see the demon as a dull red liquid in the whites of the victims' eyes, much like the alien black oil in The X-Files. And while the Mexican locale is nice, Latin possession stories are not particularly new (e.g., The Possession of Joel Delaney). So, not many points for originality.



Yet while The Old Ways drags midway through, it's never completely boring. This is because the characters are well-crafted and interesting, so we care about their plight. They anchor our interest. All four lead actors do an excellent job (and two of them are young pretty actresses -- always a plus!). The visual effects are well done, if unoriginal. The psychic surgery is well done and nicely gross. And despite the usual elements common to tales of demonic possession and Third World voodoo, still, there are some surprises.

Hardcore horror fans will not find The Old Ways particularly distinctive, but it's an enjoyable and well crafted horror film. Directed by Christopher Alender.



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