Christopher Alender’s The Old Ways is a graphic, exciting exorcism tale that eschews the genre’s traditional Catholic trappings, opting instead to put a Mexican mythological twist on its spooks. It’s an interesting change that makes for many memorable visuals, even if the story still follows traditional beats.
In this case, Christina (Brigitte Kali Canales) is an American reporter dealing with some personal issues (she’s addicted to heroin) who travels to her ancestral home in Veracruz to report on local ruins. She has an ulterior motive, one that is revealed as the story progresses. Unfortunately, the locals have their own motives as well. Christina wakes up chained to a bed in a rural location, far from civilization. The local Nahuatl bruja (an indigenous shaman) stands before her and tells her she’s possessed by a demon.
Not to worry: They’ll get it out.
It’s all groundwork for some very strong jump scares and gore bits. The Old Ways delivers, graphically, in ways that a lot of mainstream releases shy away from these days with their focus instead on emotional trauma and performances and, if we’re lucky, some gray CGI spooks. This film features some glorious, glorious gore.
That’s not to say The Old Ways, at 90 minutes, doesn’t occasionally overstay its welcome with flashbacks, dream sequences and a fairly standard take on addiction and recovery. It’s minor in the end, though, thanks to a rousing finale.
Canales is a strong lead, carrying the “what the fuck?” demeanor necessary for someone lost in a world clamoring for her blood, guts and spirit. Her eventual empowerment is accompanied by some excellent makeup work that matches her change in attitude. Like much of the film, the visual design is on point.
There are definitely times when The Old Ways feels like it’s bumping up against the confines of its budget, but thankfully the cast and crew know where those limitations are. All of the sets are small, but they’re well-dressed — strange, unsettling and a little disorienting at times. The pacing of the story and character interactions make it so the jump scares land properly. For those who like it, the gore is supremely satisfying and the use of indigenous mythology never feels appropriative, at least no more so than the use of Catholic concepts in past tales of Western exorcism.
Halloween may be a year away now, but keep this one as an early addition for your next spooky season.