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Jungle (2013), The

Entertainment One // R // June 24, 2014
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted July 3, 2014 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

The found-footage horror genre has taken a beating over the past fifteen years since its spike in popularity, due to both critics of the gimmick and filmmakers who have overused it. Films such as Europa Report and The Bay prove that there's still plenty of inventive life left in the concept, though, if those behind the camera think outside the box about what their particular film will do differently -- both in theme and terror -- than its predecessors. The Jungle, an Australian import from The Reef's Andrew Traucki, is a prime example of going entirely against that train of thought towards novelty, instead adhering so precisely to a template that it legitimately feels like watching a movie you've already seen before with all the accompanying flaws and frustrations, only with a few details swapped out for the sake of posterity. Familiarity saps the film of the dread it could've produced due to the predictability of what's around each bend, making it difficult to suspend disbelief and soak in the atmosphere accordingly.

The Jungle initially flirts with a few dissimilar ideas, where an Australian conservationist, Larry (Rupert Reid) embarks on an observation venture to Indonesia, aimed at capturing a rare breed of leopard in its natural habitat for government reference. With his brother behind the camera and a government-appointed tracker to assist in their journey, a group of four set out to Indonesia's tropical jungle, armed with relatively high-tech recording devices and precautionary gear (read: a rifle) to navigate the wilderness. Lo and behold, Larry and his team decide to visit a shaman before their search mission begins to gain some cultural perspective, who warns them of a werewolf-like demon that prowls the area where they'll be photographing and exploring. Not one to react to superstition, Larry dismisses the warning and leads his team into the area. When odd sounds start to surround them outside their tent at night, however, they all start to wonder whether it's the work of big cats ... or something else.

Exchange the Indonesian folklore with rural Americana occultism and The Jungle would basically transform into a derivative remake of The Blair Witch Project, only with a cursory lead character whose skepticism towards the supernatural comes from it being a nuisance towards his agenda instead of a compelling phenomenon. From stumbling onto spooky props scattered about in the woods to breathlessly staring into the nighttime forest when they're not trembling in the tent, it's discouraging to witness such blatant emulation without doing much to spice up the unfolding of events. It gets to a point where you can actually play a guessing game as to whether the film's going to do this or that next -- Will the passionate documentarian verbally badger a spooked-out companion? Will they get lost in the woods? Will they discover human remains? -- and the film conforms to those projections almost on-cue through faintly less-shaky and zoom-heavy cinematography. That monotony kills the mood, even with the lights dimmed and the sound cranked up for full effect.

Areas where The Jungle actually does try to change things up, namely in building atmosphere with the tools at the crew's disposal, are purely mechanical and do little to elevate the dread looming in the shadows. Rehashed scenes of pinpointing sounds in The Jungle's dark expanses and bickering over fears of the mythological aren't really aided by the film's glances at creepy black-and-white digital "evidence" captured by their cameras, though the night-vision goggles do capture a very slim number of eerie moments clawing their way onto the screen. What The Jungle lacks, ultimately, is a sense of purpose and intrigue: instead of Larry seeking the truth behind backwater witches, alien life, or trolls like in Trollhunter, the fable of the beast jeopardizing his crew's livelihood merely stands in the way of his preservation goal. Larry lacks curiosity and investment as a result, where the thing loudly going bump in the night becomes little more than a legend he now regrets shrugging off so casually, leaving those watching the footage of what happened to the crew just as detached.

The DVD:

Video and Audio:

Found footage films are always a bit tricky to critique on home-video, simply because imperfections could very well be part of the intended aesthetic. It's even tougher with digitally-shot films like The Jungle, whose 1.75:1-framed, widescreen-enhanced transfer does a great job of projecting vibrant color and steady contrast ... yet struggles quite a bit with ghosting during movement and aggressive pixelation. The key here, of course, is that the cinematography retains the guerrilla-style shooting as Larry and his crew trample through The Jungle, and Entertainment One's transfer handles the verdant pop of foliage, the searing green of night-vision, and the pitch-black contrast well enough for the production's purposes.

The audio can be enjoyed on a more standard level, thankfully, as it's a crucial part to achieving the atmosphere within the Indonesian jungle. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track creates an exceptional, immersive mood with the sounds of The Jungle, from insects to rustling in the foliage that frequently disperses to the surround channels for a clear surround effect. Feet crunching grass and the muffled rubbing of a microphone command a fine presence at center-stage, with respectably authentic separation across the front channels to clinch the documentarian feel. The dialogue is clear and audible, though a little restrained in clarity (again, likely due to the source and film's intent), and a few harsher sound effects -- the firing of a gun and the shrill noises of things in the night -- are appropriately aggressive. English subs are available, as well as a 2-channel Stereo track.

Special Features:

The only extra we've got here is a lengthy Trailer (2:32, 16x9).

Final Thoughts:

In the ongoing discussion over whether found-footage horror has run its course as a sub-genre, The Jungle's dully imitative nature provides some strong evidence supporting that idea. The gimmick never really latches on, the intrigue built around supernatural elements is tepid, and its commitment to checking off the same plot points as its predecessors becomes bothersome instead of referential or suggestive of inspiration. More importantly, as a response, it simply fails to get the chills going as the crew hikes through a hostile jungle atmosphere, making it a rather tedious experience that's best to be Skipped while seeking out other recent successes of the still-alive concept.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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