Review by Adam Johnson
Director Christopher Alender’s 2020 film The Old Ways details the story of a journalist, Mexican-American Cristina Lopez, who visits the jungles of Veracruz, Mexico in order to shed light on the local tribes and culture. Although after exploring a cave/ ruin, Cristina is awakened to find herself shackled to the floor of a hut. She has been kidnapped and held captive by an older Mexican gentleman and a “bruja” appearing in exotic Day of the Dead-esque face paint who upon inspecting her asserts she has “it”.
Within the realm of possession films, Old Ways manages to break away from the typical European setting and Chrisitan framework and lore and this is undoubtedly its strongest element. The film takes a blend of indigenous Aztec and Mayan roots with a dose of Catholic tradition to create a nice syncretism. Instead of a caricature of hermaphrodite horned-goat “Baphomet” symbolism traced back to allegations regarding sex magick rituals and the deviant Knights Templar (most commonly used today by atheistic-Satanist groups as a means of trolling the pious), we are introduced to “Postehki”. We soon learn as Cristina and her cousin Miranda are flipping through some of the bruja’s (witch’s) ancient texts that Postehki is the “death god of broken things” who feasts upon the souls of those riddled with trauma and in Cristina’s case specifically – a severe heroin addiction and a refusal to claim her upbringing and past.
Part of the reason this mythology plays so effective here, and oozes with raw sincerity is because this dark tale is influenced by screenwriter Marcos Gabriel’s own upbringing. His family has a deeply religious background, and his mother would often tell tales where she witnessed demonic possession as a child. While the subject matter is fresh, it still retains a more classic formula in regard to its set-ups and jump scares. Yet it somehow manages to avoid the over-saturation of many mindless supernatural films in the modern age, while also circumventing the 2014-onward trend of smuggle-through-custom pseudo-intellectualism branded as a statement on “trauma” such as The Babadook and all its illegitimate offspring. I will attribute Gabriel’s personal touch to this outcome.
On the more technical side, for a film of its budget it is pleasantly shot particularly bringing into mind the flashback segments that show our main protagonist exploring the dark ruins known as “La Boca” where she spots a dimly lit, imperceptible demonio. The lighting, camera work, and sound design really aid in bringing a film that is primarily set in one location to life. However, aside from these warranted praises, it still feels like an “indie” film. There contain some disjointed elements, and the film feels underdeveloped. Although even with criticism such as the pacing towards the end being off tempo – at a run time of 1 hour and 30 minutes this is not irredeemable. I commend The Old Ways’ originality in a sub-genre where copy and paste has become the status quo.
7.2/10.0 (+.2 for the poster design).