Along with being a savvy businessman and a shrewd judge of viable horror projects, Jason Blum also has a keen eye for emerging filmmaker talent. Rather than rely on veteran filmmakers to helm Blumhouse projects, the production company often like to work with up-and-comers and indie filmmakers. While already a name in horror as a writer and actor, Leigh Whannell didn’t have as much experience as a director when Blum tapped him to helm The Invisible Man, which saw great reviews and a huge opening weekend. More recently, they’ve signed indie filmmaker Karyn Kusama to direct their Dracula project currently in the works.
And now, they’ve signed an even more intriguing name to the team: Issa López. According to THR, López will be both writing and directing Our Lady of Tears for Blumhouse. The film will be based on the same story of the recent Epic Magazine and Vox article “The Haunting of Girlstown,” which was published on the same day the Blumhouse adaptation was announced.
The story revolves around the strange events of Villa de las Niñas, a.k.a. Girlstown, a Catholic boarding school for girls on the edges of Mexico City. The school recruited and then isolated girls coming from backgrounds of extreme poverty and poor, rural families in remote parts of Mexico. In 2007, an outbreak of mass hysteria with supernatural elements struck the school. The girls complained of piercing sensations in their legs and phantom pains, nausea, fever, weakness and paralysis. The outbreak spread to hundreds of students. They began to complain of seeing black shadows and hearing voices. A psychiatrist, Loa Zavala, was sent to investigate. One girl told her she was seeing the ghosts of bloody fetuses, some with no face. Tales of spirits and apparitions and even visions of the Virgin Mary ran rampant. Some of the girls contemplated suicide to escape the torment, a mortal sin. The school was in chaos.
Over 500 people, including some of the girls’ ultra-religious mothers and one teacher, succumbed to the contagion. Roughly 300 students were sent home between October 2006 and June 2007. Ultimately, the psychiatrist sent to investigate chalked it up to mass hysteria brought on by the fact most of the girls had grown up in poverty-stricken, physically and sexually abusive homes and were now living in school that was Draconian and harsh – no television, no magazines, no radio, no letter writing, and strangest of all, the girls all had to celebrate their birthdays on the same day in August on the anniversary of the school’s founding. The years of abuse at home and then the mental rigidity and isolation of the school resulted in mass hysteria being the only way the girls were able to vent their rage and sadness, channeling them into the outbreak without realizing it.
But Zavala conceded that by the end of her investigation, the line between medicine and the supernatural had blurred. “After a while, the boundary there isn’t always so clear,” she said.
Which is why López is the perfect person to write the script and direct the movie adaptation. “The moment I read the Epic article, I knew I wanted to tell this story,” Lopez told THR. “I myself attended a Catholic school in Mexico City. I grew up on a steady diet of supernatural visitations and miracles, and of the real-life horrors that young girls who grow up in poverty face every day in Mexico, and around the world.”
Indeed, anyone who has seen López’s incredible Tigers Are Not Afraid can confirm she’s the right person for this job. Her breakout Spanish-language fantasy-horror, set in the slums of Mexico City, is poignant and heartbreaking. The dark fairy tale tells the story of five children orphaned by the gang wars and drug cartels and forced to survive on the streets, children who are haunted by ghosts, literal and figurative. Like the students of Girlstown, the line between fantasy and reality, between salvation and horror, often blurs for the children in Tigers Are Not Afraid. And neither does López flinch when showing the horrors of gang violence and the ruthless grind of hunger and poverty. I kept missing it at film fests and finally got the chance to see Tigers when it hit Shudder last year. This is what I said at the time:
Finally watched TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID courtesy of @Shudder. I'm going to need time to process all the emotions I'm feeling. What a bleak, beautiful, profoundly moving movie @IssitaLopez has made. I'll be haunted by this one for a while.
— Alisha Grauso (@AlishaGrauso) September 14, 2019
I still stand by it. I’m extremely excited to see what López does with such rich source material.