Vuelven (aka Tigers Are Not Afraid) Movie Review
Written by Ryan Holloway
Released by Videocine
Written and directed by Issa López
2017, 83 minutes, Not Rated
Premiered at the Hola Mexico Film Festival on June 2nd, 2018
Paola Lara as Estrella
Juan Ramón López as El Shine
Hanssel Casillas as Tucsi
Rodrigo Cortes as Pop
Ianis Guerrero as Caco
Tenoch Huerta as El Chino
Vuelven from director Issa López has won a total of 23 festival awards from around the world since it’s premiere at Fantastic Fest in 2017. Currently it has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has become something of a mini classic, and it’s not hard to see why.
The film is inventive, fantastical, artistic and stunningly dark.
At only 11 years old, Estrella (Paola Lara) comes home from school to an empty house. With her mother missing and the night drawing in, scared and alone, she seeks refuge with a gang of orphaned boys who live on the streets trying to survive the best way that they can. The leader, Shine (Juan Ramón López), has had to grow up beyond his years to keep his friends from harm, but when he steals a gun and a phone from one of the Huascas killers of the cartel, he unwittingly starts a chain of events that will throw their lives into mortal danger.
The phone contains video evidence of just one of the many crimes perpetrated by the cartel leader Chino (Tenoch Huerta) and he will stop at nothing to find Shine and his crew and kill them to get it back.
Issa López perfectly blends brutal reality with fairytale motifs to tell the children’s story. As an insight into how children orphaned by crime desperately seek some semblance of life, it works very well, and seeing it though the eyes of those so young is both heartbreaking and powerful.
The beginning of the film is somewhat poignant with Estrella’s classroom forced to take shelter on the ground during a shootout. Her teacher gives her three pieces of chalk and tells the frightened girl that they are ‘wishes.’ When she discovers that she is alone, she uses one of the wishes to bring her mother back, but when she returns things take a turn for the supernatural as Estrella’s mother is now a spirit on her shoulder, whispering to her to comfort and protect her.
The moments of fantasy never feel out of place or jarring but are beautiful and crushing in equal measure. The young group is fantastic, performing like seasoned pros, as kids in crisis. Juan Ramón López’s Shine is superb and perfectly portrays the tragedy of lost youth with the street-smart fight of a tiger, the consistent metaphor that roars throughout the film, whether it be in the form of animated graffiti or a stuffed toy belonging to the youngest of the group.
As the kids realise what they must do to bring an end to their pursuit, they also know that it will mean sacrifice and bravery and the film builds to a strong climax of horror and a message of freedom.
It’s only a matter of time before Issa López is given the kind of budget that will enable her to bring more of her extraordinary talent to the masses but until then, Vuelven is definitely one to seek out.