Movie Review (Sitges Film Festival): The Old Ways

October 19, 2020

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at [email protected] He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

The Old Ways is, above all, a folk horror film set in Latin America that also includes elements of possession and body horror, as well as blending psychological horror and gore. It tries to tackle a lot, obviously, and sometimes that feels like it loses focus, but strong performances from its three female leads and solid direction make up for that.

Christina Lopez (Brigitte Kali Canales) is a reporter of Mexican-American heritage who was born in Veracruz but left as a child sometime after seeing — though not fully understanding — her mother being exorcised. As an adult, she returns to the area on an assignment to research witchcraft, faith healers, and other local supernatural traditions. The film wastes no time in establishing its occult leanings as Christina sees something frightening in a forbidden cave, faints, and wakes up to find herself held captive by an elderly woman (Julia Vera) and her adult son (Sal Lopez), receiving pieces of information but no help for escape from Christina’s cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortés). Complicating matters is Christina’s heroin addiction, which helps to make her an unreliable narrator figure.

The first act is the strongest of The Old Ways, with director Christopher Alender — working from a screenplay by Marcos Gabriel — setting up an eerie, claustrophobic atmosphere. The second and third acts weave between the different styles of horror mentioned earlier, but as the elderly woman and her son try different methods to try to rid Christina of the demon possessing her, Alender keeps things mystifying and creepy. The Old Ways looks gorgeous thanks to terrific set design and sharp cinematography by Adam Lee, and the score from Ben Lovett (I Trapped the Devil; The Wind) accents the story superbly.

Canales, Cortés, and Vera make for a fine trio of leads. Canales does an admirable job, showing a wide range of emotions as her character goes from determined to stubborn and angry to confused and scared, and beyond. Cortés is strong as Christina’s cousin; the two have not seen each other in many years and the chemistry between Cortés and Canales is engaging and realistic. Vera’s mostly wordless performance gives a creepy air to the proceedings. Lopez also gives an intriguing turn as a man who is invested in the traditional supernatural ways.

Fans of folk horror should find plenty to enjoy in The Old Ways. Though the film contains some familiar elements, it reworks them in ways that result in a tale that feels fresh.

The Old Ways screened as part of Spain’s 2020 Sitges Film Festival, which ran from October 8–18. 

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