Welcome to the Jungle (2007)
There is something about the jungles of the world that makes them the perfect place for a horror movie. We may think that scientists have discovered every possible species of animal life but new ones, some dangerous to man, are constantly being discovered in the remote jungle environment. All the aspects of a great horror film are there. There is isolation from any possible form of help. Tribes of people long cut off from what we consider civilization are there waiting to deal harshly with intruders. Even the environment is hostel, always at the ready to kill. One of the latest films to take advantage of this perfect natural location is ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. Just remember that this is the 2007 film by Jonathan Hensleigh not the 2003 flick with the ‘Rock’ or the heavy metal song from Axel Rose. After a slew (pun intended) of pre-Halloween slasher flicks I admit I was a bit dubious about this one. Thankfully, I was wrong. It has been a long time since a horror flick has given me a surprise. There are always severed limbs, gushing blood and the odd decapitation or so but this film has style in the way these scenes are presented. Many films can be described as atmospheric but this brings the genre to a new height. It surrounds you completely pulling into a dark, frightening world. Adding to the realism is the unfamiliar cast and the use of a real event that has become part of several urban legends. With so many horror flicks you have to work at the all important suspension of belief. You know there is no man with knives on his fingers that haunt your nightmares, or a guy in a William Shatner mask killing nubile teenagers. Here the fright factor is all too possible. You don’t have to fool yourself into believing the events shown in the film; you feel that they are possible.
Four friends from the United States are on vacation in Fiji; Mandi (Sandy Gardiner), Colby (Callard Harris), Mikey (Nick Richey) and Bijou (Veronica Sywak). While there they come across the fact that Michael Rockefeller, heir to billions and son of the late Vice President Nelson, went missing in New Guinea back in 1961. Although there was a massive man hunt for him no trace was ever found. They kids think it would be a great idea to try to find some leads and follow them. Bijou is the principal camerawoman obviously using a digital hand held camera. This use of cinéma vérité helps to personalize the film tremendously drawing the audience in from the start. At first the shots are typical of a group of young people on vacation. There are scenes of a girl in a bikini surfing, handsome guys waking along the beach and some moments chatting in the car. The girls pass judgment on the others passing by. At first it was supposed to be a girl’s adventure with just Bijou and Mandi but Mandi wants to bring along a guy she just met, Colby. He has a friend Mikey that the pair hope will keep Bujou occupied. When the start to look into the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller they decide to go off to New Guinea to see what they can find out.
Not long after getting to New Guinea they wind up in the middle of a hail of bullets. Now normal, sober people would consider the tranquility of Club Med at this point but the quartet are invigorated by the adrenaline rush of the experience. A good rule of thumb is to complain to your travel agent if the locals shoot at you and get him to book you on the next plane out of there. Our intrepid foursome just wants more excitement. In a near by village they barter for a lighter inscribed with Rockefeller’s name, they feel the anticipation mounting as they think they are getting closer. They prepare to head deeper into the jungle. The day is filled with beautiful lush green growth and a waterfall to play in. At night they break out the bottles and drink by the campfire. Mikey and Bijou decide to take a little side trip down the river on their own. Considering they are in the middle of nowhere without as much as a guide this has to be a great idea. While on this little side trip they see a group of natives on the banks of the river. Mikey goes right for his gun but Bijou talks him out of using it. Needless to say when the natives get a hold of the pair it is not what they had in mind for adventure.
First a little caveat for those considering watching this film. See it before you have dinner and make sure you eat lightly. The ending is something that you may see coming but the visual is a great moment of horror cinema. Unlike most representatives of this genre writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh does not feel the usual obligation to provide a constant flow of blood and gore. For a modern film maker he is more in the old school frame of mind. In this method of horror films the terror is in your mind requiring only a few choice visual statements to make a point. Some may feel that this flick is paced too slowly. I have to disagree. It builds to the conclusion like few films now are able to muster. You get to know these four young people. One scene gives a lot of exposition in a short time. Before they leave on their adventure they ask each other five questions such as ‘do you believe in God’ or ‘What is better on Sunday morning, sobriety or drinking’. This gives a capsule view of each of the principle characters. Another good thing about the pacing is it lulls you into a sense of security. When the end comes around it just adds to the shock of it. The special effects in that scene are something to be seen and wonder how the effects people pulled it off. The cast is mostly unknown to the bulk of the audience. While most of the four have had previous experience it was mostly smaller roles. They pull off their portrayals here with dedication and realism.
When I hear there is a film to preview from the collaboration of Genius Pictures and the Weinstein Company I know that it will be interesting. They specialize in the little films that most people have missed in the theaters. They films they bring to DVD represent talent both in front of and behind the camera. They also demonstrate that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to make a worth while film. The video on this film is in widescreen with less than perfect color and contrast. They exclusive use of consumer level digital cameras brings the audience into the story with an intimacy that a more professional look could never accomplish. The audio is the same, amateurish and real. There is a director’s commentary that really gives his insights into the choices he made during production. Next there is a behind the scenes look at filming in the jungle and a deleted scene with optional director’s commentary. This is a film that you must see if you enjoy a really good horror movie.