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The Old Ways, Brigitte Kali Canales, Andrea Cortes, (Horror Movie Review)

The Old Ways, Brigitte Kali Canales, Andrea Cortes, (Horror Movie Review)
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PLOT: Mexican-American journalist Christina (Brigitte Kali Canales) returns to the remote jungles of her homeland, where she suddenly awakes to find herself held captive in a dank dungeon. With the help of her cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortes), Christina learns she’s being prepped for a demonic exorcism.

REVIEW: Twenty years after turning in the abysmal horror outing MEMORIAL DAY, writer Marcos Gabriel and director Christopher Alender take a long-overdue stab at redemption with Sitges entry THE OLD WAYS, a far superior demonic corporeal-horror venture that relies just as much on spiritual possession as it does visceral body mutilation. But while the film favors comparably to the filmmakers’ prior work, it still registers in the middle of the mildly recommendable pack of its horror contemporaries. That is, for a small movie set in one location with just a handful of characters, there’s a lot to admire, particularly Canales’ (BABY DRIVER, STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS) central performance, the claustrophobic tropical dungeon setting, and the gutturally jarring repulsion of the physical violence. But even at a scant 90 minutes, the film sort of paints itself into a corner with little wiggle room to find a forcible exit and tends to grow a bit tedious as it nears the ending. Still, for a low-budget horror import and a sophomore effort made 20 years after the director’s first film, THE OLD WAYS is fresh and ferocious enough to give a look when it drops on VOD October 16, 2020.

Following an ominous opening in which an elderly woman is seen strapped to a bed and purged of an inner-demonic clutch, the film cuts to the present to find a young Mexican-American woman held captive. Christina (Canales), a journalist sent to her homeland to cover the subculture of faith healing, awakes in an eerily festooned dungeon near Boca, Veracruz to discover her limbs bound, completely unaware of where she is or who has done this to her. An old lady named Luz (Julia Vera) adorned in Native face paint and a milky eyeball appears with portentous gravity, preparing for some sort of ritualized ceremony of shamanistic witchcraft. Christina tells Luz’ partner Javi (Sal Lopez) that she is the cousin of local villager Miranda (Cortes), who soon arrives to console Christina the best she can. But when Miranda informs her cousin that she’s been kidnapped because she is thought to be held hostage by a demonic entity, Christina’s incredulous. Not to give away too much, but Christina must reconcile with her past, including a longstanding familial lineage accursed with genetic Demonia.

A series of grueling and torturous body violations ensues, which is one admirable area where the movie differentiates itself from most demonic horror yarns. An almost Cronenbergian level of gruesome corporeal assault takes place as Christina is held captive, tied down, subjected to drug-induced hallucinations, her belly gorily dug into, her hands and feet nailed to the floor, spastic body contortions, her mouth vomiting viscid strands of unidentifiable black glop, etc. The physical toll Christina endures, coupled with her soulful and spiritual possession, is where the movie separates itself from the pack. Another aspect of the film that stands out is the subterranean setting, a dingy and dusty dungeon adorned with demonic symbols, pentagrams, chalked-out skulls, and the like. The interior lighting casts a distinct amber hue that plays well off the verdant exteriors and lush tropical tableau. But even the strength of the setting, which underscores the inescapable claustrophobia Christina increasingly feels, does tend to conjure a restless sense of cabin fever by the final reel. I realize part of the intention is to make the viewer squirm with unease, but the spatial enclosure becomes a bit too burdensome and overstayed.

While the single-setting somewhat shifts from a strong suit to a tiresome downturn, Alender atones by finally offering a glimpse of the demon’s physical manifestation. The ruddy demon-design and concomitant makeup and FX work is downright arresting, with the deformity of a large oblong head and rows of jagged teeth unloading one last horrific salvo on your eyeballs as the film draws to a close. All of the physical body horror and intense violence in the film plays credibly enough, unfortunately, its Christina’s heritage that is not only less convincing, but too clichéd and contrived at times to match the unnerving visual array of sinister imagery. What smoothly paves the middle-ground between the two is Canales’ leading turn, as she demands enough genuine sympathy despite her dubious back-story to really cheer for her safety and survival. Especially during one stint where she’s summoned to the ethereal realm and faces the rapacious Demon Boy (Julian Lerma) out to violently subsume her soul. No matter how silly the story becomes, the sheer barbarity that Christina is physically subjected to keeps us engaged in her ultimate outcome.

For a sophomore feature made 20 years after the filmmaker’s first, THE OLD WAYS proves Christopher Alender has a promising future in horror cinema. Despite a limp story and an eerie location that tends to wears out its welcome by the end, the film works best as an alarming blend of demonic possession and visceral body horror and made even more compelling by Brigitte Kali Canales’ principal performance. All told, if you like small, under-the-radar international horror joints, THE OLD WAYS should offer you something slightly new.

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