Director Christopher Alender and writer Marcos Gabriel made Memorial Day, a horror film, in 1999 – then spent the next twenty years or so working with the Muppets … but have gone back to their roots for their second feature, which is an unusual take on the exorcism sub-genre, with a refreshingly different religious/cultural background. It’s also another essay in how to make an effective horror movie with a claustrophobic setting and few characters.
Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales), a journalist born in Mexico but raised in the US, returns to Veracruz to investigate a haunted cave … and is overcome by demons who might be from local folklore or might equally be her own baggage (besides not speaking Spanish and being estranged from her own culture, she’s quietly addicted to heroin). She wakes up in a hut, chained to the wall, and is force-fed goats’ milk by her abductors Javi (Sal Lopez) and Luz (Julia Vera). When her cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortes) shows up, Cristina learns that the couple believe she is possessed and are conducting a lengthy, gruelling exorcism which also serves as a course of regression therapy as she delves into her own psyche, which was pretty screwed up even before a possible demon moved in.
The ambiguity isn’t quite played out to the end – some snarly flashbacks establish that there really are demons in the mix – but The Old Ways is at least as interested in getting under the complicated protagonist’s skin as in daubing her with chicken blood and other substances, and performing ‘psychic surgery’ (as seen in many an old ‘mondo’ movie) on her abdomen, which turns out to be infested with evil snakes and other stigmata of demon influence. Canales has to shoulder the bulk of the film, physically and emotionally, but Vera and Lopez are excellent as the dutiful, determined, ever-so-slightly sadistic exorcists. It’s a nicely-paced film, which springs a couple more surprises and twists than it seems to promise. Genre regular AJ Bowen is the only anglo presence, as Cristina’s long-suffering editor. It has a good, earthy look and an eerie, subliminally nerve-jangling sound design