THE OLD WAYS: The Horror In Addiction And Recovery

Premiering this weekend at the 2020 Sitges Film Festival, The Old Ways, from director Christopher Alender, is a horror film that takes you below the equator and into the jungle of forgotten traditions. Cleverly balancing the elements of horror with its deeply relevant and urgent themes, The Old Ways is sure to satisfy both viewer and horror fanatic alike.

The Old Ways

The Old Ways dives right into the action, opening with a young girl witnessing what appears to be a ritual performed on her mother. There is a terror in what is to come and what could happen to the young girl and the inhabitants of the room, and the film does not delay in delivering both jump scares and securing your intrigue. From this introduction, you will understand this is not your typical horror film.

THE OLD WAYS: The Horror In Addiction And Recovery
source: Soapbox Films

The Old Ways wastes no time either in moving the story along. Immediately, viewers are introduced to Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales), bound and hooded, terrified as a man slowly and pensively lights the candles in the room. There is no introduction of who she is or why she is held captive, bypassing the standard introduction and capturing of a horror genre’s main character. It bridges the tension of our opening scene to the present, tethering viewers to the film with curiosity and terror.

As viewers try to understand what is going on, and how Cristina has found herself in this predicament, it is revealed her confinement is for her protection – and for the protection of those around her. Cristina has a demon inside of her, a demon both the local bruja (witch) and her son are determined to remove at all costs.

Crafting a Horror

The Old Ways is a brilliant piece of cinema. Though not without its flaws, it manages to bring to life a horrific portrayal of addiction and recovery. It follows a now growing list of films that are tackling relevant social themes through the context of the horror genre. While sometimes a little too on the nose with its examinations and portrayal, The Old Ways is a film that utilizes rituals, culture, and denial to present a tumultuous road extending beyond the celluloid.

The film is full of jump scares and uncertainty, many times leaving viewers unsure of whether they are actually viewing a demon or if they are watching the resolution of mind in the character of Cristina. Gore liters the film as well, though tactfully and full of intent. It is never used for the sake of use, each time it is present for a purpose.

THE OLD WAYS: The Horror In Addiction And Recovery
source: Soapbox Films

Brigitte Kali Canales brings the deniability of Cristina to life with perfection, the terror she exhibits buried deep, much like the memories her character struggles to forget. There is a strong front she is able to create for her character while managing the fragility of her broken self just below the surface. While at first Canales seems unsure of her setting and place – both inhibiting the film yet creating an out of place context all the same – she eases into her role, fully encompassing her character and the journey. Andrea Cortes too rises to the horror challenge of her character. There is a devout loyalty that shines through her character, and an emotional balance that speaks to the peace of her life and the confidence she embraces both with her culture and her family. She knows who she is and where she comes from, Cortes using this to shine in the darkest corners of the film.

Speaking of the darkest corners, The Old Ways presents a very limited set to its audience. While there are shots of caves and the jungle beyond, the film is mostly limited to two rooms in the house, the kitchen common area, and the room that Cristina is held in. Small votive candles provide limited lighting, illuminating small portions of the room while throwing deep shadows in the corners, the darkness almost reaching out to Cristina. Beyond the candles, painted icons on the wall immerse the narrative, our main character, and the audience into culture and ritual, further compounded by the lack of understanding each is initially given.

The Tumultuous road to recovery

At its core, The Old Ways is about addiction and recovery. The communication gap between the bruja and her son with Cristina was a clever storytelling device. Not only did it widen the fissure of understanding, but it also encapsulated the commutation between an addict and those attempting to help. There is a lack of understanding and the means of communication have not become developed yet. There is a desire to help, but also an inability is for both to start the conversation.

THE OLD WAYS: The Horror In Addiction And Recovery
source: Soapbox Films

The demon within Cristina is the addiction, brought about by past trauma she has been avoiding and unwilling to speak about. There is a loneliness in carrying this burden, and also loneliness in the feeling that if she is to fight back, she will have to do it alone. From this, there is denial. Denial she has a demon or that she is an addict, there is a denial that she needs help – this denial and continued acceptance changing her as a person. “You still don’t believe”, her cousin Miranda tells her.

Platitudes come willingly and freely, and understanding of the lack of control Cristina truly has when it comes to behaviors associated with her “demon” – “This isn’t you”. Though no matter what help is extended or kind words were spoken, at the end of the day, it is Cristina who must come to accept the state she is in, and want the help. Until then, those around her who care have to keep reaching out to her no matter what.

Final Thoughts

There are horror films that call to an audience through imagery and content. The Old Ways is one of those films. And it lives up to its hype. It is engaging and horrific, keeping relevant themes in the foreground while entertaining with solid and gruesome scares.

Watch The Old Ways

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