Mexican director Issa López honed her abilities as a writer and director working on romantic comedies and mass-appeal stories over the last 20 years. She penned screenplays for successful productions such as Ladies Night, Pulling Strings, and A La Mala, and helmed others including Casi Divas and La Boda de Valentina. But it wasn’t until she decided to go indie that large scale international attention came her way.

Her 2017 dark fantasy Vuelven (Tigers Are Not Afraid), which had a smaller budget than her previous endeavors, earned her the Best Horror Director award at the prestigious genre event Fantastic Fest, the Best Film and Best Director awards at Hola Mexico Film Festival in Los Angeles, a Best Director nomination at the Mexican Academy Awards, and countless other prizes at festivals around the globe.

The versatile auteur captivated audiences with a grim fairytale about children living in a post-apocalyptic world where a criminal group called Los Huascas rule. Orphan children roam the streets and inhabit dilapidated buildings, trying to survive unspeakable violence and hopelessness. Estrella (Paola Lara), a young girl haunted by her own mother’s ghost, must band together with a gang of boys lead by El Shine (Juan Ramón López). Otherworldly apparitions and magical creatures appear along their path to guide them and remind them to be courageous.

As seen in the trailer, López used her discerning eye to determine where and how to use visual effects as a way to enhance the already gripping adventure, rather than using them as a crutch to propel the story. Stellar performances from the first-rate child stars, as well as famed actor Tenoch Huerta who takes on a wicked role, are the movie’s driving force.

Courtesy of Director of Photography, Juan Jose Saravia, each frame is cloaked in sinister shadows, reflects the dark subject matter. Of course, there are moments of light too – both thematically and visually – and their absence for most of the running time makes them all the more effective once they are revealed.

Because of its blend of social realism and visionary imagination, López’ Tigers Are Not Afraid caught the attention of eminent figures in the horror realm. Both Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro and celebrated author Stephen King praised her work on social media last year. The filmmaker’s next project titled Three Sundays will be her English-language debut.

Shockingly, Tigers Are Not Afraid still doesn’t have US distribution. Its most recent screening stateside was last month as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s program Scary Movies XI. 

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