Brimming with folk law, yet light on scares ‘The Old Ways’ is certainly a modern exorcism movie which, at least for one watch, can trade blows with the best of them.
Plotwise, the story follows a young girl who is brought, under duress, into the captivity of a shaman (bruja), her assistant and another young lady (whose involvement is revealed throughout the story). Disorientated and pleading for her release she is informed that she has a demon inside of her, a demon which the bruja can see behind her eyes, and one which will ultimately consume her. As you might expect the possession symptoms begin subtle, but as the darkness takes hold the rituals required to cast it out become more intense and dangerous.
The film leans heavily on familiar tropes, and for all intents and purposes – as is the case for the vast majority of exorcism flicks – this film follows a familiar pattern of alternating ritual scenes with exposition; however, in the case of ‘The Old Ways’, I got to say, the exposition is actually worth paying attention to!
Whilst typically exorcism movies focus on mythology of Judaeo-Christian demons (well the standardised filmic interpretations anyhow) ‘The Old Ones’ leans on a South American demon known as ‘Postehki – The God of Broken Things’, for its spectre, and as such, we get to see, and hear, a whole new set of stories and set pieces as the possession moves through its paces. Same dish, just different spices I guess, but still, in a genre where its best example arguably remains 1973s ‘The Exorcist’, it’s nice to have something new to prove that there’s still some ground to be made.
The film certainly builds well enough and whilst I don’t want to contradict my statement above, even though the possession hauntings and scare sequences are all variants on themes you’ve seen before, ‘The Old Ways’ certainly has a distinct aesthetic which makes the familiar seem fresh.
As with many modern horror films which are destined for straight to streaming, its visuals and cinematography sits somewhere in between indie budget and full studio, however, here, the limited environments are well thought through, and there’s a consistency of grading which just suits the films primitive, earthy undertones. Despite the obvious temptation to go for the shocking early on, this film feels confident in its slow burn, setting its story up through a set of eerie and atmospheric flashback/dreamlike sequences the cinematography once again shines through, with its use of lighting to add an ominous, claustrophobic feeling to help build the tension.
As the films moves through its plot, the exorcism sequences seem to add a lot of hype in terms of their promise and exposition, however, the film doesn’t quite nail the ‘horror’ as much as it does storytelling and aesthetics – which is a shame. Whilst the film does peak at a ritual it insists is the last stand against the demon – ‘The Broken Man’, the film noticeably lacks a standout scene or scenes to either disgust or terrify; in fact whilst I’m on the topic, it really isn’t all that scary at all to be honest, which perhaps makes it a more accessible option for viewers than other exorcism movies.
The rather dodgy CGI demon reveal towards the end perhaps hints that there was an intention to fit into more modern horror trends than pay obvious homage to older influences.
Overall, ‘The Old Ways’ is most definitely worth a watch. It’s got its moments of tension early on bolstered with a mythology which brings a fresh new coat of gloss on a familiar style of film. Sadly though, its not quite as scary as its early scenes perhaps suggest the film will stack up to be, and for me, that’s about the only real criticism I have, that and the dodgy demon at the end! Its on Netflix now so, if your subscribed, it’s certainly worth a go if you’re a fan of the genre.