By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
Starring Brigitte Kali Canales, Andrea Cortés, and Julia Vera
Written by Marcos Gabriel
Directed by Christopher Alender
They say you can never go home again. THE OLD WAYS shows exactly why you should not even try, especially when you come from a village of demons and brujas.
Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) is a reporter from America who returns to her hometown near Veracruz to work on an assignment. Though she was born there and still has family nearby, she is too far removed from the people and culture to be able to still claim it as her own. But that is the least of her problems. Though we see an occasional flashback to both Cristina’s mother, before her death, and her time in the office back home (with genre stalwart AJ Bowen as her editor), the film starts right into the scary bits with Cristina tied up and being force-fed goat’s milk by people who do not speak her language. The one common communication they manage to share is the name of Cristina’s cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortés).
Miranda arrives at the holding cell and is able to act as interpreter between Cristina and her captors, though what Cristina hears does not make the situation any better for her. Her captors believe that she has a demon inside her, and they must perform rituals to get it out. Suddenly, in a Richard Mattheson-style twist, it is Cristina who is the threat here.
Ritual and magic can make for fascinating films. While THE OLD WAYS never goes as far as A Dark Song or The Love Witch into the repetition or ingredients of these spells, there is a certain degree of understanding and insight into the traditions and processes of exorcism by bruja. Sadly, there is very little exploration of demons and demonology here. There are some fantastically gross and bloody examples of the physical toll these rituals are having on Cristina, but beyond the brutality, we never get to know the demons themselves, what they might want, or their history, which is left to the surface of the film.
What is explored a little deeper are Cristina’s personal demons. Her relationship with her late mother, her old country, and even her forgotten language are discussed openly with Miranda. After all, Miranda is her only connection to this place and is acting as her voice because Cristina cannot speak for herself. She also happens to be dealing with the weight of her life back in the US, and the baggage that she brought with her to Mexico. Some of the ways in which the film deals with these issues borders on flippant or cliche, but the ways that these issues affect Cristina are not so casual. There is a weight given to her personal demons that acknowledges their scope, but the visual signals for these things can be a little trite.
THE OLD WAYS is part possession, part bruja, and part confession, and an all-around good and scary movie.