Folklore is way more than just telling stories; it serves as a moral compass or as a guide to navigating life. From the most ancient hieroglyphics and cave paintings to Grimms’ Fairy Tales and even today’s memes, human beings have turned to story and imagery to warn onlookers of life’s woes and how to avoid them. Unfortunately, many culture’s folklore and languages are dying off, and we are losing those invaluable lessons. Even though in modern life we have so many resources and guides, how much do we risk when the “old ways” die out?

The Old Ways gives viewers a shocking glimpse of what can go wrong if we lose sight of tradition, and is just as much a lesson in exorcising our poisonous modern-day lifestyles. Have you ever felt like your work-life balance was crushing you? That your stress headaches felt like claws inside your brain? Or, that your absent-minded doom scrolling was eating away at your soul? What if they actually were? We can probably all learn from protagonist Cristina’s (Brigitte Kali Canales) example of how to break free. 

Although born in Veracruz, Cristina has not only embraced the American dream, she has purged the memories of her childhood home. Living in the cutthroat world of journalism, her life is rampant with toxic, obsessive productivity culture. She would rather chase that next big story than take care of her body or maintain any semblance of human interaction with anyone other than her boss, Carson (AJ Bowen). When a hot tip about La Boca, a cave drenched in whispers of sorcery, demons, and madness, comes across her desk, Cristina jumps at the chance to write her next salacious article. She just has to go back home, and face a few malignant spirits, first. 

The Old Ways, winner of Panic Fest’s Best Director Award (Christopher Alender), is just as much a cautionary tale as it is another iteration of an exorcism movie. Alender and screenplay writer Marcos Gabriel seamlessly fold the demons of modern-day American overwork culture into the ancient monsters that have plagued Mexico.

The characters in this film were well written and well portrayed, and many viewers will relate to Cristina’s hustle, just hopefully not to the same extent! While there are stretches without a lot of dialogue, the mannerisms and movements of each character compel the audience to empathize with them, and none of the lead roles are one-note. 

Exorcism movies can be pretty predictable, but with the building of backstory, folklore, and characters, Alender and Gabriel have truly made something special with The Old Ways. It doesn’t hurt that the scenery for the overhead shots are naturally gorgeous, either. Alender also plays with the narrative and storyline in a way that throws us right into the story, and flashes back and forth into Cristina’s life. While that approach does shake up the tired, old exorcism trope, it does leave the audience scrambling to understand what’s going on at times. 

In movies where there are otherworldly beasts, I am always on edge when it comes to the effects. There have been so many movies where there is this huge build-up to see a creature, but when you finally see it, it’s a digital creation that lacks realism. While there is a digitally-created demon in one scene, I was relieved that practical effects were used for the majority of the film. The makeup, lighting, and even some practical/digital hybrid effects really made the film believable. 

The Old Ways shows us that while we may not face the same demons our ancestors did, our lifestyle and our hubris can be just as scary. With its beautiful scenery, complex characters, and creative use of practical effects, this film is well worth a mere hour and a half of your time. Just like the folk tales of our pasts, this movie just might save your soul. 

Movie Score: 3.5/5


Check here to catch up on our previous Panic Fest 2021 reviews!