William Friedkin’s classic The Exorcist is so ingrained in the demonic possession sub-genre of the horror field that every feature that has come since can’t help but feel like a recycled take on a head-spinning narrative we’ve come to know so well. So, with that, there’s all more the reason to celebrate something like The Old Ways, a horror effort that not only breathes new life into a tested field, but also serves as a commentary on the erasure of cultural traditions.
The film’s opening throws us immediately into the thick of Marcos Gabriel‘s story, focusing on young Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales), a Mexican-born, United States-raised journalist who has been kidnapped during her hometown return as she investigates the local tribal cultures. With the imagery of her bound and chained on the ground, Christopher Alender‘s film suggests that a torture porn mentality may be adopted when navigating Cristina’s horrific plight, though, thankfully, it’s a far more supernatural temperament The Old Ways adheres to.
The reason behind Cristina’s abduction is an “is she or isn’t she?” type scenario spearheaded by the town’s bruja, or witch, Luz (Julie Vera), who believes Cristina is demonically possessed. It’s a question that the film gleefully delights in investigating through unnerving and bloody rituals, which only furthers the question surrounding Cristina’s state of being.
As Cristina, Canales throws herself both emotionally and physically into the role. Many sequences utilise practical effects in a manner that assist the actress’s psyche, which she responds to in the most natural of ways; an impressive feat given the heightened situations she finds herself in. Additionally, her exploration of a woman reclaiming her Latina heritage builds a psychological layer that continually elevates The Old Ways beyond its genre restraints.
Grounding a narrative that could so easily have embraced the oft exaggerated mind frame these types of film tend to, The Old Ways is a supernaturally inclined horror film that favours humanity and tradition over cheap genre thrills. Dominated by the strength of its female characters, Alender’s film succeeds at conjuring new life within a sub-genre that so often fails to exercise its exorcisms.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Old Ways will be available on digital platforms in Australia on October 12th, 2021.