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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Tigers Are Not Afraid is a very dark, violent drama with many elements of horror. Dialogue is in Spanish, with English subtitles. Young children (ranging in age from 4 to 10) are in constant mortal danger from ruthless adult drug lords. The villains beat a woman and then shoot her, and they threaten to kill the children (at one point, one also threatens to rape a 10-year-old girl). One of the kids sees monstrous visions of her dead mother, snakes, and decomposed walking corpses. Children tell each other scary stories about the drug lords: that they kidnap children, dismember them, and use them in satanic rituals. Deaths occur suddenly, with blood and some gore, and viewers see bloody dead bodies wrapped in plastic and heaped in piles. Among all this horror, the young main characters are courageous and (mostly) supportive of each other -- though they use very insulting language toward each other ("moron," "a--hat," "puta," "f--ker," etc.), and there are some regressive gender messages (such as when boys are called "Disney princesses" to imply they're cowardly). Drugs are the background reason for all of the terrible things that happen; viewers never see anyone using them, but one man is shown swaying and out of it.
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What's the story?
In an unnamed Mexican border town, a group of young children tries to survive a horrific predatory drug cartel by reminding themselves that TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID. Recently orphaned Estrella (Paola Lara) pushes her way into an established gang of homeless kids when hunger forces her out of her empty house. The young gang members, led by fierce El Shine (Juan Ramón López), are eking out an existence under the nose of local boss Caco (Ianis Guerrero). But when Shine steals Caco's phone, he runs afoul of both Caco and cartel kingpin El Chino (Tenoch Huerta), whose plans to run for political office seem suddenly insecure. When Estrella is magically granted three wishes, she soon learns an old fairy tale lesson: You should be careful what you wish for.
Is it any good?
This divinely chilling foreign import chooses a dire setting -- a cartel-devastated border town -- to tell a fairy tale that's both horrifying and emotionally affecting. Tigers Are Not Afraid starts as a classroom lesson on folklore is disrupted by gunfire, during which Estrella's teacher comforts her by pressing three pieces of chalk into her hand, explaining that they're three wishes for her, just like in the storybooks. Estrella's first wish, though, goes awry (Monkey's Paw-style), as her plea for her missing mother to return brings back a terrifying revenant who whispers to her from empty food cannisters and dark corners, pleading with her to bring Chino to the place where the dead uneasily rest.
Estrella's everyday waking world is no less terrifying, with things going from bad to worse as first Caco and then Chino vow to wipe the gang out. It's whispered that the two are bogeymen, that they perform satanic rituals with the dismembered bodies of the children they capture. In fairy tales, innocence and bravery are always strong enough to defeat evil and power. But in real life, the good are often punished along with the bad, and things rarely end happily ever after. As Estrella, Shine, and the rest of the desperate children use every tool at their disposal to run, hide, and fight back, this dark fable ticks down to a startling finale that's worth every tear viewers will cry over it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the nature of fairy tales. How do they reflect (and comment on) real-life experiences? In Tigers Are Not Afraid, how do Estrella's otherworldly experiences help her understand and cope with her trauma? How are fairy tale conventions used to comment on the realities of the characters' lives?
Horror movies have many ways to signal to viewers how to feel: shadows and dim lighting/darkness, ominous music, skewed visuals that aren't true to life. Think about a scene in Tigers Are Not Afraid that you find scary. How do the filmmakers amp up your reaction? What emotions do you feel as you watch? How do the visuals and audio contribute to these emotions? Do you think the filmmakers are trying to elicit these feelings?
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