Richard B. Morris
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Welcome to the Jungle (2007)
1st Feb 08
In 1961 Michael Rockefeller, son of one of the most powerful men in the world, disappeared during an expedition close to the shores of New Guinea. Rockefeller was rumoured to have been a victim of cannibals or crocodiles. Two young couples, Mandi and Colby plus Mikey and Bijou, hearing that Rockefeller have been sighted, and venture off to find him with the intentions of getting rich and famous off the back of it.
Welcome to the Jungle consists of film footage, found after the event, taken by the four youngsters as they go on their travels. It doesn’t take long for the happy vibe amongst the two couples to darken, leading to squabbling and to ultimately part ways. All too soon the reality of what Rockefeller may have faced presents itself to them along the shores of the river they are travelling. From then on it's a fight for survival.
Not to be confused with muscle tower The Rock’s movie of the same name (known in the U.S. as The Rundown) or the Guns N’Roses single either, director John Hensleigh’s movie is a cannibal flick that’s more Blair Witch than Cannibal Holocaust.
With Hensleigh’s background being more of an action bent than horror – he directed the risible Punisher movie as well as penning Bruce Willis’s Armageddon and Die Hard: With a Vengeance - you would probably expect this to involve a lot of running around and loud bangs. Also given that the DVD casing brags that the movie is from the producer of both the punchy Terminator and the adrenalin-pumping Aliens - Gale Ann Hurd – would only re-enforce that thought.
The movie does get loud in places but it’s not due to any action set pieces, here the loudness constitutes of shouting, and a lot of it. The action thrills prevalent in the above-mentioned flicks are not what Hensleigh’s Welcome to the Jungle is about.
After the initial disappointment of it not being a survival horror, it still delivers, just not in the way you may have expected. It does test the patience on occasion, but is worth sticking with as by the time the youngsters come up against the cannibals, you find you have bought into it wholesale.
By turns frustrating and inspired, Hensleigh’s movie is very much a mixed bag. Like The Blair Witch Project , which this will inevitably be compared to, it plays short with the running time, never outstaying its welcome. The similarities do not end there, the dialogue is improvised; it consists of a few people in the middle of nowhere who end up squabbling whilst investigating a ‘legend’; events played back via found footage; and the ending is a given. Aside from a snotty nose from a sobbing girl, Blair Witch’s structure is pretty much all here in some guise.
On the DVD commentary the director confesses to be influenced more by Cannibal Holocaust than the aforementioned shaky cam classic, which indeed he references in a nod towards the movie’s climax. Anyone watching this though expecting it to be full of savage cannibal imagery is going to be in for a shock. It is not that type of film despite it being heralded by some quarters as reviving the cannibal genre. This movie is more about building mood rather than splashing out gore and it is more effective for it.
The standard of acting is pretty good with Nick Richey standing out as barman Mikey, making for an agreeable and more credible companion. The only weak lead in the foursome is Callard Harris as Colby who is kind of meant to be pretty and vacuous anyway so perhaps it wasn’t a weak performance after all. It’s to their general credit that they manage to make their characters fully-rounded. Even if they are annoying they still feel like real people rather than actors messing around in front of a camera. However, a lot of their improvised dialogue feels needless, like people talking for the sake of talking, and too much of it is of the ‘you hold the camera’ whenever an actor is meant to have their time in front of it.
This ‘lost footage’ concept is a difficult one to buy into. How would the footage have ever been found, given that everyone else that has ventured into the area has disappeared? This idea is just as shaky as why any right-minded person would really keep filming when their life was in danger? Would someone whose life is about to end be that worried about positioning the camera? I don’t think so even if they are hoping to sell their recordings for untold fame and riches.
That said in the present genre environment that veers between the extreme horrors of the Saw franchise to the watered down thrills catering for a PG-13 audience, Welcome to the Jungle proves a refreshing alternative. Whilst gory in places, it is never excessive relying instead on the build to the inevitable climax and despite the cast grating on the nerves from time to time, the unsettling atmosphere more than compensates, the final scenes remaining with the viewer long after the movie has stopped playing.
- Feature commentary with writer / director Jonathan Hensleigh (which is apparently quite good with the director proving more honest about his movie than most)
- “Into the Wild”: The Making of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ (15 minute featurette)
- Deleted Scene (with optional director commentary)
- The obligatory theatrical trailer