Movie Review: The Old Ways (2020)

The Old Ways (2020)
Directed by Christopher Alender
Starring Brigitte Kali Canales, Sal Lopez, Julia Vera, Andrea Cortés, AJ Bowen

One of the key elements for a good horror film is to really hook the audience in caring about what is going on. To do that, you need good, believable characters that the audience will invest time with them. That way when these characters are in peril, it pulls at the audience’s emotions. Now in the ’80s, we had all those slasher films with cookie cutter characters because we were there to see the all the new and creative ways they would die and the special effects surrounding them. Nothing wrong with any of that, because they were going down a particular path in horror entertainment. Nobody went into Slumber Party Massacre III for a good character study or a memorable storyline.

Even with newer films, they can some times get caught up with the gimmick of the plot or whatever the special hook is. But then there are others that spend time developing characters who are wrapped around a simple but effective story, that grab the audience’s attention each step of the way.

Christopher Alender’s The Old Ways does just that.

It features a cast of mainly four characters that pretty much carry the whole story along. Even more intriguing is that 90% of the film takes place is one location, a small shack in the middle of the Mexican jungle. Brigitte Kali Canales plays Cristina, who wakes up chained in a small room with a burlap sack over her head, not knowing where she is or even remembering how she got there. With no one seeming to speak English, her frantic questions go unanswered, as goat milk is forcible poured down her throat. She soon discovers that she is being held captive because this old bruja says she saw “something” within her… a demon, and they must get it out before she is allowed to leave. If she survives.

The title is perfect, showing that maybe the “old ways” still have some sort of significance in today’s modern world. In the beginning, we’re not really sure what is real or not, or the reasoning behind Cristina being held. Do we believe the old witch, is she just crazy, or is there some truth to what she is saying? As the story plays out, we discover and learn more about Cristina and her past. I’ve always been a sucker for ancient mysticism and rituals, the older and more bizarre the more fascinating they can be. Here, not only are they strange, but look painful, especially for the person going through the ordeal. Once she starts to go through the ritual, is what she is seeing real or just hallucinations? Are those snakes real, as we watch them slithering in through the window, slowly wrapping around her arms? I do know when she started coughing and choking, pulling long strains of wet and matted hair out of her mouth, I could almost feel it myself. A Very effective sequence.

Julia Vera plays the old woman set on releasing Cristina from her possession, who, with her white and red painted face, looks terrifying at times, but then has such a kind face in other moments, which shows her talent is more than just a painted face. Sal Lopez plays her son and her assistant. Once again, with a look from his eyes, you can see kindness, but also a very tiresome determination, knowing what has to be done. No matter what the pain it may cause to the very person they are trying to help. Andrea Cortés plays Cristina’s cousin who had warned her about the place she wanted to visit and the dangers there. Now she is trapped between trying to wanting to help her cousin, but also knowing what has to be done.

From the visuals, the simple but very effective makeup, to the creatures hiding in the shadows, it all shows a great sign of creativity and even some originality, which is always a nice thing to see. Even the “healing” ritual seems like something from one of those Mondo Cane videos that seems obviously fake, when old bruja starts pulling out a long serpent out Cristina’s stomach, your thoughts will change!

While Alender has only directed one other feature film, he obviously knows how to make a quality piece of cinema. Everything seems to work really well here, from the cast, the effects, the visuals, and of course, the story, giving us a nice and creepy little horror film. Alender will be one to watch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s