Written and Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh
Produced by: Gale Ann Hurd
Reviewed by: Brett H.
“How about you, mate, where’re you from?”
An intense, gut wrenching cannibal film can be hard to top. Primarily an Italian export, the native tribe of bloodthirsty savages (always with a social message, of course) subgenre generally succeeds in making even the most hardcore fans vomit in the back of their throats during a viewing. Other than the animal killings, I’ve never been too offended and actually consider 1981’s Cannibal Holocaust one of the best horror films of all time because of its gripping effect because I almost felt violated when I was through with it. Invigorating, I guess I like the abuse. Fast forward to 2007 and we have Welcome to the Jungle, an ambitious American film trying to capture the grisly nature of its Italian forefathers. Guns N’ Roses is forever my favorite band and I’ve always said if I was to ever make a cannibal movie (which would never happen), it’d be entitled Welcome to the Jungle. The bastards beat me to it, but they forgot the buckets of gore I surely would have brought to the show. They do, however, use the true-life disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in the cannibalistic jungles of New Guinea and the legend around it as the basis for the plot. Wake up, it’s time to die...
The film opens to stills featuring the late Michael Rockefeller and a few sentences explaining his family and the legend around his true-life, mysterious disappearance. In 1961, Rockefeller was on a trip in New Guinea and when his boat tipped, he went missing and has not been found to this day. A group of young people have come together in Fiji for a good time and one of the guy’s buddies who works in the local bar states that a pilot he knows has spotted an elderly, bearded man among members of a native tribe in the thick jungle terrain. The group just happens to have a couple of cameras and at the spur of a moment decide to run through the jungle in search of the old fella, certain that it’s Rockefeller himself, and sell the story to the tabloids for a cool million. Mandi (Sandy Gardiner) and Bijou (Veronica Sywak) have been friends separated for years but finally reunited, and Mandi’s boyfriend/fuck friend Colby (Callard Harris)’s hook Bijou up with Mikey (Nick Richey) and they hit it off, so the journey is sure to be prosperous.
All doesn’t go as well as planned, of course. Mandi and Colby are hard working and generally serious whereas Mikey and Bijou are completely contradictory. They all want their bucks, sure, but Mikey and Bijou want to get drunk and party through the dense thickets. Eventually, tensions rise incredibly high over this and Mikey and Bijou lift all the supplies from the goody two shoes and head out on a raft to see what they can discover. Always sticking to the book, Colby would never travel by raft because of the uncharted rivers and their crocodiles, whirlpools and waterfalls. Mikey shows blatant disregard by stealing a skull from a hanging structure supporting the mummified bodies of tribal elders, even after a crazy Aussie trader warned them never to touch the sacred remains, sure it will sell for big bucks on Ebay. Soon thereafter the curious natives begin following the raft from the shores. Their welcoming committee in the jungles of New Guinea has arrived, but rather than bearing gifts, they’re wielding spears and mallets.
Welcome to the Jungle manages to succeed and fail in its attempt at scaring and pulling the audience into the film. You develop a love/hate relationship for most of the characters. Mikey is funny in his outrageous and spontaneously stupid antics, but he tends to take things too far and really is the typical naïve American who doesn’t realize that not everywhere in this world is like his country and just because he’s American doesn’t exempt him from these rules. Bijou is sucked into his world by default because she enjoys her drink a little too much and is ostracized by the rise, shine and get to work attitude of Colby. At the same time, you can’t help but wonder why in the hell serious types like Colby and Mandi would bring along a couple party animals to their very serious trek into the dangerous jungles of New Guinea. You don’t need to know quantum physics to realize that Paris Hilton wouldn’t be a good person to trek 20 miles a day through lush jungles. The main problem is the gore is not up to cannibal standards. There are a lot of severed body parts, but you see no real violence in action. But, of course, the lovely Bijou (Mandi is supposed to be the hot one, not for this cat, though) becomes human shish kabob. I expected and craved more, though. Like Axl said, I wanna watch you bleed…
Blair Witch and Cannibal Holocaust style, the film uses the documentary approach and more than one camera/perspective. With multiple cameras, it makes one particular scene incredibly effective. We witness Bijou and Mikey’s altercation with the natives on camera one, and then the film cuts to the second camera, which shows Mandi and Colby just hours behind the doomed duo. It’s creepy the film is very much based in reality and you have what is essentially a glimpse into the future. They don’t know what’s beyond the next bend in the river, but you do. The film is effective in the sense that it really takes advantage of the real-life fears of the civilized world beyond what we consider the norm. While driving their van (which is like a newer version of those old, goofy 70s vans you always see in these movies, how cool is that?), one person reads from a travel guide that if you are driving and see a child in the middle of the road, do not stop. Either drive by or turn around because when you stop, you’re about to get guns drawn on you, robbed and possibly even worse. Naturally, a tense scene arises involving this very idea. The cannibals themselves aren’t too interesting, they mostly just stand still like statues while in cover (kind of unsettling, frankly) or walk along the banks of the river, and there’s not many of them.
Internal struggles and the fear of an unknown place are really the high points of what the film has to offer, overshadowing the load of severed limbs the last thirty minutes dish out. It’s not a bad movie, but one that jumps back and forth a bit too much because of one unstable character that shows no respect for the land he’s in and the situation he’s in. Really, now, would you go messing around with native graves when you are doing a documentary on Michael Rockefeller, who could have been eaten by native people?! It’s a little hard to digest, but it does make things more entertaining. All in all, I think the lack of an all-out gorefest spoils the movie somewhat. The DVD art lists it as unrated, but it’d be hard to believe it’d get any trouble with the censors in this day and age. With that said, it’s great to see a modern day cannibal film, even if there’s much more suspense than gore. The true story of Rockefeller is also interesting to learn about and the rather tame ending gets a bump with a nice twist just before the credits roll.
The most amusing character in the film is the Aussie trader they meet up with that warns them about messing with things sacred to the tribe in between “fucks”. Like The Blair Witch Project, the film was largely made up as it went along and it feels more real because of it. Cinematography is great, though it'd be pretty hard to make untouched mother nature look ugly, I will admit. Dimension’s DVD is a nice package with great video in its proper aspect ratio and the audio is a 5.1 mix which is pretty irrelevant because the film doesn’t have a score for the most part. The characters can be heard very clearly and that’s the main thing here. The DVD also features a trailer and a commentary with the director and a short featurette, both pretty engaging. The featurette goes into details about the film’s effects (which are quite good) and has interviews from many people involved with the film. There’s not much too positive or too negative to say about Welcome to the Jungle; it’s a good little movie, but nothing that will rip your guts out like a Lenzi or Deodato cannibal film. Leave your barf buckets at home because there’s no rape or real animal killings, which will probably intrigue those too afraid to jump into the slaughterous pit of piranhas that the world of cannibal films encompasses. To us old hats, we’ll have no problem making it out of this jungle alive and well. Rent it!
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