Now that it is October, we’ve reached the most popular point in the year for scary movies to hit theaters. Around this time each year, audiences are subjected to a slew of different horror movies. Some of which are great; some are less so.

In order to stand out in a crowded genre, any new scary movie needs to have its own original take. They need a defining characteristic that separates them from the rest of the pack. To do this, the film “Tigers Are Not Afraid” has chosen not to be the traditional horror film filled with jump scares and spooky monsters, but rather to be a more cerebral exploration of the horrors of humanity.

“Tigers Are Not Afraid” is a Mexican film directed by Issa López, and it stars Paola Lara in the lead role of a young girl named Estrella. Juan Ramón López plays another young child named El Shine. Estrella’s mother goes missing early in the film, but Estrella begins to be haunted by her ghost. Scared of what could happen if she stayed, Estrella runs away from home and joins a gang of children led by Shine. 

The film takes place against the backdrop of a modern day drug war between Mexican cartels. This small group of children lives on the streets, moving around the city when necessary. The cartels often kidnap children, so these adolescents avoid most adults at all costs. Estrella, however, cannot escape the ghost of her mother, who randomly appears and torments her. 

“Tigers Are Not Afraid” is legitimately horrifying on multiple levels. 

In one sense, it’s scary in the traditionally supernatural way often depicted in the horror genre. The ghost of Estrella's mother often emerges to confront her daughter when she is alone. This apparition first appears to Estrella as she is waiting for her missing mother to come home. She makes a wish for her mother to come back, but when her mother does arrive home, it's not in the way Estrella expects. Her mother is a dark and sinister presence around the house, quietly whispering Estella's name, terrifying both her and the audience until stepping out from the shadows to attack her daughter.

This ghost appears many times throughout the film, and each time she appears, she does so in a new, equally unnerving way. 

“Tigers Are Not Afraid” also unsettles its audience with the picture it paints of humanity and grief. 

The life that Estrella, Shine and the other children in this movie are living is not a happy one. They’re constantly on the run from cartels. They have all lost their parents, and they live in constant fear of losing each other too. There are about a half-dozen children in this group. The oldest is no older than 13 while the youngest is only an infant. 

These children rely on each other for safety while simultaneously trying to comprehend their own sense of despair. Estrella absolutely loved her mother, but then she disappeared without warning. Estrella doesn’t know what happened. She longs to be with her mother again, but when she does see her, it is a horrific experience. Meanwhile, Shine is struggling with the concept of what it means to be a man. He is the self-proclaimed leader of their group, but he’s just as lost as all the other children. His family is gone. He misses his mother, and this grief often manifests itself in his attempts to prove himself an adult. 

The performances given by all of these children, Lara and López in particular, were nothing short of extraordinary. These children brought an extreme sense of maturity and emotion to their characters. They are able to capture that sense of childlike innocence that is necessary for their characters while also tackling some intense emotional sequences.They were asked to convey a variety of different emotions that would be difficult for a seasoned actor to do, yet they did so with ease. 

“Tigers Are Not Afraid” is a strange mix of “The Babadook” and last year’s Academy Award nominated “Roma,” and it works phenomenally well.

This is the kind of movie that will paralyze you in fear during its scary sequences, and it will shock and appall you during moments of pure hatred and evil from its characters. It strikes an incredible balance between being a thrilling horror film and a jaw-dropping emotional drama. Being either one of these films would warrant a recommendation, but seamlessly fusing them both together makes “Tigers Are Not Afraid” a must-see.