The Old Ways

When a Mexican-American reporter goes back to her hometown to investigate local tribes, she gets more than she bargained for with a battle between good and evil in Christopher Alender’s first feature film, The Old Ways.

Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) is a modern woman, a reporter, and someone with a strange history. As a child in her village of Veracruz, Mexico, her mother was possessed with a demon, and terrified of that legacy, she escaped her village and her culture for the big city.

When an assignment comes up to investigate tribes of her village, she jumps at it, even though her editor isn’t sure she should go since Cristina never speaks about her background or past. When she arrives in Veracruz, she goes to a sacred space and is kidnapped. Her captors tell her she is harboring a demon, and the village bruja Luz (Julie Vera), her son Javi (Sal Lopez), and, most surprisingly, Cristina’s cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortés), are determined to exorcise her of that and more.

The premise is fairly simple with The Old Ways, but the storytelling is an analogy of unresolved issues in one woman’s life. Her rejection of her culture, her addictions, and her lack of belief fuel defiance that the locals can see, and their insistence on breaking it is clear to save someone who is one of their own.
Alender uses some cool visuals and practical effects, but this quiet exorcism film is more about self-discovery than flashy effects. In the press kit, Alender said that he and his writing partner of 25 years, Marcos Gabriel, explored stories told by Gabriel’s Puerto Rican mother about Brujeria (witchcraft) and how they lost touch with a tradition that is very alive today. I love this fact because remembering rituals from ancestors is important to stay in touch with your culture, no matter how grand or small they are. You can find a bruja, Southern rootworkers, or someone of that ilk in every culture.

Canales in The Old Ways. Photo courtesy of Soapbox Films.

The ensemble cast was quite effective. There was a real sisterhood with Cortés and Canales, and Canales, who has been in films like Baby Driver (2017) and Star Wars-Clone Wars TV series, keeps her energy fraught with tension as Cristina. I loved Vera as the bruja, who patiently administers her remedies despite Cristina’s protests and violent outbursts.  This is a heavily female-centric film written by a male writer without a blatant male gaze, which is amazing. While some might find it over the top, the ending is symbolically fitting for someone finding themselves, embracing their culture, and ready to shape the future.

The Old Ways is currently doing the festival circuit, so stay tuned for more news. Updates can be found on the Soapbox Films, where Alender is CEO and CCO. It’s the home to indie hits The Wind (2018), Body at Brighton Rock (2019), and The Mortuary Collection (2019).

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