THE OLD WAYS movie poster | ©2021 Netflix

THE OLD WAYS movie poster | ©2021 Netflix

Rating: R
Stars: Brigitte Kali Canales, Andrea Cortės, Julia Vera, Sal Lopez, AJ Bowen
Writer: Marcos Gabriel
Director: Christopher Alender
Distributor: Netflix
Release Date: August 5, 2021 (theatrical/Netflix); October 12 (DVD/Blu-ray/Digital)

THE OLD WAYS is in one sense, as its title suggests, folk horror. However, it also brings a fresh take to exorcism, and not just because it is set primarily in Veracruz, Mexico (THE OLD WAYS was actually shot in Puerto Rico and Los Angeles).

In a prologue, we see several villagers trying to exorcise a woman whose young daughter watches the rite, uncomprehending.

A few decades later, Cristina Lopez (Brigitte Kali Canales) wakes up in a rural hut, with lots of odd symbols on the wall. Her captor (Sal Lopez) demands to know what Cristina was doing in “La Boca.” Cristina explains haltingly (her Spanish is weak) that she has come here to research a story: she’s a reporter.

Then there’s an entrance by an older woman (Julia Vera), blind in one eye and wearing Dĭa de los Muertos makeup. The woman examines Cristina and declares in Spanish, “She has it.”

Soon, we are flashing back and forth between Cristina’s ordeal in the hut, and the slightly hallucinatory odyssey that preceded it.

Who are these crazy people? Where are we? Where is “La Boca”? What the heck is going on here?

The answers to all of this may not be what we expect. Writer Marcos Gabriel and director Christopher Alender delight in turning horror tropes upside-down and inside-out. The filmmakers successfully keep us on edge and eager to find out the next revelatory twist. They likewise have respect for the mythos they’re creating, so that its layers contribute to rather than contradict one another.

It also makes for some pleasing variety to put some supernatural horror in Latin America, rather than the more familiar locales of North America, Europe and Japan. Alender stirs up a sense of primal forces with the lush locations, full of verdant wonder in the forests and dark menace in caves.

Additionally, he gets the best out of Bryce Perrin’s evocative art direction, which immediately begins persuading us that we’re looking at ancient traditions. Jump scares are achieved visually, sonically, and even psychologically.

The performers all have conviction, and display great physical fortitude.

Films that play with who and what the audience should identify with and who and what to fear often run the risk of leaving us indifferent. THE OLD WAYS succeeds in drawing us in as it raises the stakes, at the same time making us feel like we’re having new experiences in a well-established horror subgenre.

THE OLD WAYS is in Spanish and English.

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