The Old Ways takes a tired horror subgenre—exorcism and possession—and resuscitates it with new life. Christopher Alender directs a clever script from Marcos Gabriel that weaves in an element of Mexican mythology. It’s the cultural flare and surprisingly potent character work that helps break out The Old Ways from traditionally predictable conventions.
Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) is an American reporter who was invited back to her ancestral home to do a story on the local tribes and cultures. Things take a turn for the weird when Cristina decides to explore the ancient cave ruins of La Boca. She is kidnapped and held against her will by a local bruja (Julia Vera) and her son (Javi, played by Sal Lopez), who are convinced Cristina is now possessed by a demon.
The Old Ways is a pulse-pounding, nail-biter that drenches dread in every frame. Each second she is alone, you’re never sure who—or what—will visit Christina in her seclusion. At first a clucking rooster is her only constant companion, but something more sinister promises to emerge. Creepy demonic eyes lurking in dark corners set a mood early on that this film doesn’t hold back on eerie atmosphere. Cristina herself, played by skilled actress Brigitte Kali Canales, starts off unlikeable and gets significantly more warm. Cristina is forced to reassess her faith and come to terms with her past, despite no longer believing in the culture or traditions. An earlier trauma involving Cristina’s mother becomes key to unravelling her complicated character.
The final act slightly overstays its welcome, going on about 15 minutes too long once it feels like the explosive climax has already occurred. The final scene is still a satisfying full-circle moment that is worth the payoff. If goat milk waterboarding, slithering snakes, massive hairballs, and gory practical effects sound appealing in the slightest, The Old Ways has got you covered. It’s a culturally-infused, visually arresting, and demon-dipped treat.
The Old Ways screened at the virtual Panic Fest, April 8th – 18th.