At first glance, The Old Ways appears to be another run of the mill possession movie. Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) wakes up imprisoned deep somewhere in the Mexican jungle. She’s informed by Javi (Sal Lopez) that she has a demon inside of her and that Luz (Julia Vera), a local witch, will begin performing various rituals to help extract the demon from her. Cristina doesn’t believe a word of any of this, even when her cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortés) appears and tries to convince her that there is something inside of her. This sets the stage for not only a compelling battle against a horrifying demon but is also very much a story about a woman rediscovering her cultural identity.
One of the best aspects of the movie is the large amount of practical effects. While there is some CGI, The Old Ways relies mostly on good old-fashioned gross out effects. In particular, during the exorcism scenes, there are wriggling crawlies and blood-filled tumors being pulled from Cristina’s stomach in some very gross and cringeworthy moments. The real crowning moment in the movie comes when Cristina comes face to face with the demon. He’s an impressive creation, and it’s a fitting, awe-worthy moment to top off the movie.
Director Christopher Alender creates a vivid, sweaty, claustrophobic environment for the story. The action is limited almost exclusively to a small room where Cristina is imprisoned. From the noticeable details like the drawings on the wall to the small things like candles being held in half cut out metal cans, the room itself becomes a character. Alender makes the most of the space, staging the exorcism scenes well, with the action always being clear. The sequences are compelling and intense, making for some truly white knuckle moments.
The script, credited to Marcos Gabriel, is not only impeccably paced and filled with strong characters, but also has a meaningful subtext beneath the terror. The story is very much about a woman who has left behind her roots for a life in the United States and lost herself along the way. Cristina’s life in the States has caused her to become consumed by her work (she’s a journalist) and dependent on drugs (she’s hooked on heroin). Once fluent in Spanish, she can only speak and understand a few words here and there. As the battle wears on and gets more painful, Cristina discovers long dormant parts of herself that aid in the fight. It’s an elegantly written and impactful screenplay, one of the rare horror films that have a lot more to say than what is simply happening on the screen.
Brigitte Kali Canales, as Cristina, gives a compelling and empowering performance. She infuses the character with vulnerability and helplessness at the start as she struggles to understand her situation. What’s more, she is able to portray the changes in Cristina in a very convincing way. The Cristina at the end of the story is a very different one from the start, and it’s all because of a stellar turn from Canales.
The Old Ways not only succeeds as a horror movie with some effective scares and gross out moments, but as a great story about one woman’s journey to re-discover her true self. It’s a rare accomplishment to be able to scare an audience while also telling a very meaningful story underneath the horror.
9 out of 10