I caught The Old Ways the second night at the Chattanooga Film Fest and to be honest I didn’t know what to expect given the director’s previous credit was The Muppets Now. The film follows Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales), a Mexican American, journalist on assignment who is returning home to Veracruz, after nearly two decades away for a story. When we catch up with her she has just been kidnapped by a pair of locals, a Bruja (witch) and her son, who believe she is possessed by an evil spirit. The film is densely layered with metaphors, as we soon discover Cristina also happens to be a drug addict. Trapped alone in a cell, she has no choice but to get clean, ridding herself of one demon, while we as an audience are tasked with deciding if there is another lurking in the shadows.
The film takes a bit to get going, meticulously laying the groundwork for Cristina and her captors. Once the tone is set we get the backstory and a few revelations, like why she left Veracruz as a child, and why she wandered into the cursed cave in the first place — where evil spirits were thought to dwell. The performances here are what lock you in as Brigitte Kali Canales deals out a nuanced and emotion filled take that keeps you vested in for her journey. The film is mostly a one woman show as we experience this all through Cristina’s skeptical journalist point of view, which gives the audience an excellent perspective to some of the more supernatural leanings the film has in the third act.
The Old Ways definitely plays the long game as we finally get our verdict on the demon, and then we promptly hit the ground running for the film’s unrelenting third act that will leave your head spinning. While Cristina is front and center, its her relationship with her cousin that she left in Veracruz that ultimately provides the drama and heart and soul of this third act the pair are faced with Cristina’s demons both real and metaphorically. Its an interesting way to make a film about addiction, by mixing it with possession, luckily this film doesn’t feel quite “too on the nose” about it. The Old Ways excels at toying with expectations and resolving the film’s themes of possession in a dual climax that was as satisfying as it was unexpected.