Written by: Adam Vaughn | October 5th, 2021
The Old Ways (Christopher Alender, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.
From its opening images, director Christopher Alender’s The Old Ways forms a clear grip on its audience, introducing us immediately to the film’s premise and tone in a short and sweet (and scary!) length of time, as we are launched into a mesmerizing and high-stakes scenario. And while Alender keeps this momentum going entirely from start to finish with chilling mise-en-scène, there is also an imperfection in the film’s writing that keeps it from being a truly amazing film with a twisted take on the theme of cultural shifts over generations. The movie’s success in constantly raising the stakes with each sequence is truly its strongest suit, mixing things up between the well-crafted horror elements, which blend grotesque and suspense, and the tense and confrontational interactions with the characters.
The Old Ways begins with journalist Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) waking up in an ancient room in her ancestral home in Mexico, kidnapped and tied down. She soon discovers that a group of locals, accompanied by Cristina’s sister, Miranda (Andrea Cortés), believe that she has been a physical host to a demon. As each sacred ritual the locals conduct proves the possession to be true, Cristina debates whether she can trust her sister and the ways of their ancestors from the looming, sinister forces after her. The interactions between Cristina and the local witch doctor, Luz (Julia Vera), truly give the film a unique sense of panic.
On the one hand, Cristina (as well as the audience, at first) questions whether the ritual actions against her are nothing but a hoax, and director Alender does a tremendous job introducing the horror elements in subtle, mysterious ways. But as the film progresses, demonic possession seems more responsible for Cristina’s ailment, as well as being uniquely tied to the life Cristina has led up to this point (a clever reflection, if not a disruptive one). The final confrontation with the demon leads to a very satisfying conclusion, and a well-rounded one at that.
At times, sadly, The Old Ways has a way of interrupting its own premise by hitting us with numerous cheap flashbacks, many of which cut off the tension found in the present-day sequences. The story, several times, comes to an unfortunate halt to dive into Cristina and Miranda’s backstory, which inevitably muddies up the tension and takes us out of the moment. I enjoyed the theme of family tradition that permeates Alender’s script, and the theme holds a strong weight on making The Old Ways a unique setting and scenario for the horror genre. Yet when the script tackles these themes at the expense of the story momentum, it does as much to distract the audience as to reinforce the narrative.
Overall, the visceral scenes of grotesqueness, scares, and showdowns with demons are equally as entertaining as they are chilling. The performances from Kali Canales, Cortés, and Vera, as well as actor Sal Lopez, bring together interesting and dynamic characters which, combined with an intriguing premise, create a fascinating and terrifying experience. While the film loses points for trying to add too much into one movie, The Old Ways nevertheless rings in the Halloween month with a fresh new scare!