As we roll out of the best weekend of the year, and the arrival of Halloween, it’s a safe bet that you’re still going to want to watch a really good, really scary movie.
Might we strongly recommend “The Old Ways,” which screened in Tampa in June at the Gasparilla International Film Festival, and is now available to stream at home on Netflix and other platforms, as well as to own on Blu-Ray.
No lie, in my humble opinion, “The Old Ways” is neck-and-neck with “The Exorcist” for the best demonic possession/exorcism film ever made, and I would argue that in many ways it’s the superior movie. It’s steeped in authenticity from its setting (Veracruz, Mexico) to its portrayal of its central bruja, or witch, Luz (Julia Vera).
4.5 out of 5 stars
“The Old Ways” strips away all of the superfluous crap that bogs down most horror films, and it kicks off without any unnecessary exposition, opening just as expat journalist Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) wakes up to discover she’s shackled in a hut surrounded by religious candles, chickens and some unnerving indigenous murals.
Cristina escaped the jungle for the United States and hasn’t been home to Veracruz for decades, as her cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortés) is apt to remind her, but she’s put herself in a terrible position by visiting the one place known for harboring malicious spirits looking to possess someone weak and pliable.
Over the course of 90 minutes, Cristina will learn that there are things worse than death, and it will take a seasoned bruja and a series of ancient rituals, including a gruesome psychic surgery and a brutal spiritual crucifixion, to purge the evil that’s taken hold of her soul.
You might not expect a film so heavily focused on indigenous lore and ancient cultural practices to have so many core connections to Florida, but you’d be wrong if you thought otherwise.
Director Christopher Alender and screenwriter/co-executive producer Marcos Gabriel have known each other since the mid-1990’s when they both attended Florida State University. Co-producer T. Justin Ross also attended FSU several years later. Co-producer Christa Boarini lives in Bradenton. Even a good chunk of the crew that worked on “The Old Ways” hail from Florida, according to Alender.
But it was Gabriel’s childhood in the Sunshine State that formed the basis of what became the core of the film.
“He grew up in the suburbs of Orlando,” Alender said. “He had told me some of these stories that his mother had told him about her youth. So he was born in Puerto Rico, but like the main character, grew up stateside, mainland, and kind of was raised super Catholic, and his mother was very devout, and still is, and every now or then she would just whip out this story about, ‘Oh when I was a little girl, I came down one night, I heard a noise while I was sleeping, and I came into the main room of the house and I saw my dad with a metal bucket and there was a stranger chanting something I couldn’t understand and (he) hit him with chicken feathers and it scared me to death.’”
For years, Gabriel was unable to shake his belief that there was a movie to be made about such rituals, Alender said. Finally, while working on another project together, Gabriel made his pitch and banged out a first draft within days. Then he and Alender, assisted by Boarini and others, began adding meat to the bones.
“We just started digging in and finding things that inspired us. We had this whole trove of influences we wanted to do, which included Mayan, Aztec, and a little bit of Catholicism, and some Afro-Caribbean influences, and then we just tried to think, where are all these things possible?” Alender said.
“We kind of pinpointed the Veracruz region because it had the nice overlap of all that, and then we started Googling that and discovered brujas and brujos and we find this city called Catemaco that’s the brujo capital of the world. We’re like, okay, it was meant to be.”
Even the cast, including Vera, brought their own experiences to share, Alender said, which further helped inform “The Old Ways” with vital authenticity.
“Julia…she had this really amazing story about a healer that her mother told her about, that people would come from miles around to see this healer. She always thought that was really weird, if this woman had this special gift, why would she charge money for it, and that always rubbed her the wrong way even as a little girl,” Alender said, “and so as we were developing this character, we really gravitated to her idea, if this was a gift the woman had, she should give it away for free. So, the character of Luz, she didn’t take payment, she didn’t ask for payment, that’s why her house is full of all this junk.”
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.
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