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Friday, July 4, 2014

The Jungle (2013) review

THE JUNGLE 2013 (US DVD debut in 2014)

Rupert Reid (Larry), Agung Pindha (Adi), Agoes W. Soedjarwo (Budi), Andrew Traucki (Ben)

Directed by Andrew Traucki

"[He said] the mountain 'round here very dangerous. The Forest Demon live just up in the mountain. He uses the black magic. And when he catch you, chop off your head, take your heart out. He keep you alive by black magic... and make your head eat your heart... and then, he tell you when to die."

The Short Version: Director Traucki has a fondness for killer creatures; and having already put people in peril against crocodiles and great white sharks, he now does his own version of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT with a jungle-set story involving a legendary creature. With a bare minimum of gore, lots of shaky cam, a good deal of tension during the finale, a few decent 'boo' moments, and convincing performances, it's business as usual in the 'Found Footage' realm. THE JUNGLE is a safari worth taking for undemanding fans comfortable with a slow build, little in the way of special effects, and a narrative that leads to an inevitably gloomy ending this sub-genre is known for.

Larry Black is an Australian big cat conservationist who travels to the Indonesian jungle with his documentarian brother to locate and tag a rare, nearly extinct breed of leopard in the hopes of saving them. Accompanied by two local guides, they ignore warnings of sorcery, and a fierce werewolf-like creature said to live somewhere in the jungle. Journeying further into the dense rainforest, some of the four-man crew become increasingly nervous and frightened that something is stalking them, and they may not make it out of the jungle alive.

Andrew Traucki has thus far made three full-length creature features -- his first was BLACK WATER in 2007 about a killer crocodile; his second was the even better THE REEF (2010) about a Great White shark; his newest swaps out watery locations for the sweaty setting of the Indonesian jungle with an altogether different animal.

But unlike those two earlier pictures with their Earth-bound predators, and true event origins, the monster in THE JUNGLE is pure fantasy (let's hope so!), possessing a suitably gruesome, shape-shifter, werewolf-style back story. Aside from a quick shot here and there of something with glowing eyes and sharp teeth moving around in the fauna, we get a decent (if quick) glimpse of it during the finale leading up to the final moments. Corresponding with a few clues dropped throughout, it's possible the fang-toothed thing is of supernatural origin.

Traucki hops aboard the 'Found Footage' bandwagon to tell his tale of jungle horror, and ultimately, it's nothing you haven't seen before. Whether this movie will appeal to you or not, depends entirely on your tolerance for this sub-genre. Most of these movies follow the same format, and this one could easily pass for a remake of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), but with a different location. Thankfully, though, the use of the word 'fuck' is kept to a minimum. The narrative goes something like this -- Our intrepid animal lover and his crew travel to a remote location, ignore local superstitions, encounter increasingly bizarre things in the jungle, black magic trinkets hanging from trees, all leading up to a scary finale that includes a mysterious hut filled with bones and the stench of human remains -- much like the abandoned house that appears out of nowhere during the final moments of BWP. 

The film picks up a great deal of steam at the 65 minute mark just after the group discover human remains and argue on whether to go back and report it, or continue hunting their Javan leopard; or what they think is a leopard. Prior to that, it's a slow build as little by little the danger becomes more palpable. Additionally, Traucki's script tosses in some questions that are left up to the audience to answer. For example, who is the native person seen watching them through the thick fauna? Is it a witch doctor, or the monster in human form, or both? Does he control whatever the thing is hunting our main characters? Whatever he, or it is, when the monster is seen (fleetingly as it is), it's a disturbing looking beast with a nasty set of chompers.

Considering the film was shot in a jungle (in Indonesia and in New South Wales, Australia), that ambiance of doom from that infamous FF movie, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is inescapable. The surroundings, and the increasing thickness of the jungle as the crew maneuver deeper towards an inevitable doom is key to that chocking sense of fear derived during the last half. 

One other thing Traucki does well with his movie is making his main character sympathetic; at least for the bulk of the movie. There are clear indications of a strained marriage because of Larry's complete attention towards the animal kingdom. Later in the film when he ignores clear signs of danger present, he does become unreasonable. This is partially due to the addition of a second tracker on the trip. There are a few moments where the tension between the two men nearly brings them to blows. There's some actual care taken to build on these guys unlike most movies that simply introduce a virtually interchangeable group of individuals.

There's also a bridge between science, religion, and superstition. Larry obviously doesn't believe in this alleged werewolf creature, dubbed the 'Forest Demon'; discounting it as a myth, instead believing poachers have contributed to the depleted leopard population there. One of the guides also doesn't believe it because of his Muslim faith. The local tracker with them claims to not believe, but he indeed does. Little is done with this dichotomy, but its inclusion is welcome just the same.

The photography is likewise good -- particularly the handful of local flavor of the Indonesian landscape as the four-man expedition travel to their final destination.

Traucki is on track to (hopefully) successful career. He's proven himself incredibly adept at this sort of independent feature making the most of his budgets. THE REEF is arguably his best, but all three of his animal horror films are strong in their own way. Traucki was one of 26 contributors to the experimental THE ABC's OF DEATH (2012).

I rather enjoyed THE JUNGLE, but this being a FF movie, it will likely only cater to a specific audience with a tolerance for this sort of thing. There will be those who will find it ponderous, while others will appreciate the mounting suspense. Again, it repeats the atypical components this genre style is known for, so that might be cause to either see, or avoid this jungle jaunt.

This review is representative of the Entertainment One DVD.


Aylmer said...

Excellent review. I remember hearing about this in production, but didn't realise it had been released.

Traucki has been on my radar since THE REEF, which was a solid little thriller. In fact my favourite shark thriller since JAWS. As an Aussie myself, I'm quite proud of the fact that my favourite nature amok movies of recent years are both home-grown. THE REEF, and Greg Mclean's ROGUE (which I thought blew Traucki's BLACK WATER away).

On a side note the events of BLACK WATER actually happened to some of my mates from Queensland years ago. They were living and working deep in a coastal rain forest region of far north Queensland. One day they were in the mangroves and the tide started coming in very rapidly much earlier than they had anticipated. They knew that they were in very real danger from salt water crocodiles, and were forced to take to the trees for the entire night, unable to come down until daybreak. Even though they didn't see a croc, my friend said it was a truly terrifying experience, knowing that they were out there in the dark.

Sorry to go off topic on a rant! BTW, speaking of nature-based fount footage, have you seen WILLOW CREEK? It's a good one!


venoms5 said...

Hi, Aylmer. I only just ran across it yesterday while grocery shopping in the local Wal Mart. Once I saw Traucki's name on the box, I immediately put it in the buggy. I've enjoyed all three of his movies, with THE REEF being my favorite. He's definitely a talented filmmaker. THE JUNGLE is as good as BLACK WATER, I'd say. ROGUE is spectacular. It's reviewed here, too.

You're fine. I am fascinated by such stories, and it's good to hear your friends didn't end up fully re-creating the events of the film!

Other than the trailer, I've not seen WILLOW CREEK, but have heard lots of good things about it.

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