Written by: Max Roberts
Directed by: Alastair Orr
Lindsey McKeon as Steph
Zachary Soetenga as Scott
Sofia Pernas as Elena
Pierson Fode as Trevor
Jamie Anderson as Charlie
Juanxo Villaverde as Julio
Laura Penuela as Carmen
I was tempted to kick off this review by proclaiming it another episode of Wasting My Time So You Don't Have To Theater, but I changed my mind just as I started writing. I realized I didn't hate this movie enough to write it off completely. That's not to say you should bother watching it unless you're a chupacabra completist who absolutely can't live without watching everything related to the goat sucking South American demon. This flick, while not exactly boring, has nothing to offer but some nice scenery and a few good ideas that it never follows through on, which is incredibly frustrating.
A group of friends of indeterminate age decide to have one last big vacation together before adult life separates them forever, so they head to Panama for some surfing and jungle hiking. Once there, they befriend some Panamanians at a club and hear about a waterfall hidden deep in a part of the jungle known only to the locals, and decide that they simply have to end their vacation by filling their unguarded genitalia with foreign parasites and bacteria. Despite warnings from Julio that the patch of jungle where the waterfall is located has become unsafe recently for some unspecified reason, they hitch a ride there first thing the next morning with Carmen as their guide. Of course, the reason that part of the jungle is unsafe is that it's full of monsters.
The movie opens with a Blair Witch-style panicked video of a single person lost and in danger. Then we jump back to the beginning of the narrative and see Scott and Steph getting ready to meet their friends in Panama, who have sent them a video greeting telling them to get their asses in gear and join the party. Most of their packing and preparation, as well as the flight and leaving the airport in Panama, are shown via the perspective of Scott's camera, so right off the bat we're set up to expect this is a found footage movie. Done right, found footage can be a tremendously effective storytelling format. Laugh if you will, but by and large the Paranormal Activity franchise are some pretty solid spook shows, and of course The Bay and Europa Report are excellent movies. Unfortunately, most found footage movies are nearly unwatchable piles of crap, and I didn't like my chances with this one. Then, after about ten minutes, the movie gives up on that angle and switches to a traditional narrative. There is a reason for all the found footage stuff, but it's the biggest offender of those wasted ideas I was talking about earlier. More on that in a bit.
The characters are such generic, underdeveloped cyphers that I can't tell if they come off that way because of the performances or the way they were written. Considering most of the cast are fairly seasoned actors, I'm guessing it's more the writer's fault. Elena and Charlie have just opened a fancy restaurant together, with her being the entrepreneur and him the chef. There's some tension over her taking all the credit because she's the public face of the business, but then they just never mention it again. Steph repeatedly talks about being accepted into veterinarian school like she's going to Harvard, suggesting that it's going to be important to the plot somehow, and then they just never mention it again. You get the idea. It's like this isn't a finished script, but a template from a screenwriting software program that the writer just plugged character and location names into, hit “print”, and called it a day.
Which brings us back to that found footage angle. When Scott splashes his call for help across all of his social media platforms, the video goes viral. Suddenly the Panamanian government's attempts to quietly extract the lost Americans from the jungle and not put a huge chupacabra-shaped black mark on their tourism trade turns into a multinational rescue mission. The creature chasing them is caught on video as the helicopter comes in for extraction, with the result that every alleged cryptid sighting in history and video going back to the Patterson footage is up for serious re-evaluation with open minds, and hundreds of monster hunters across the globe renewing efforts with full funding to find the answers they seek.
The end. Just as the movie acts like it's going to get interesting for a moment, it ends. Now, I realize this is a low budget flick and they couldn't exactly afford to make a second half of the movie showing a worldwide cryptid hunt, but I've seen cheaper movies do more with less. There's no reason that with a few more passes on the script they couldn't have said some interesting things without having to spend a ton of money. Hell, I just re-watched Larry Fessenden's excellent The Last Winter recently, and that's a thoughtful and terrifying eco-horror apocalypse movie where the world ends and all you ever see of the end of humanity as we know it is a few ghostly caribou and a woman standing in a puddle at the end! It's all in the sound design and the ominous subject matter.
If this turned out to be the proof-of-concept movie to raise funds for bigger and better things as the beginning of a franchise of modern cryptid movies with bigger budgets, better scripts, and more action, I would be able to forgive the movie's shortcomings a lot more easily. I realize that's almost certainly wishful thinking, but you never know. That is certainly something I'd love to see. As it is, I'd just settle for a little more explanation of the monsters. Why did the chupacabra suddenly take up residence in that part of the jungle? There are some very vague hints that the reason the Darien Gap was never developed wasn't that it's a virtually impassable swamp, but that it was teeming with monsters. This is contradicted by statements from Julio and Carmen that the area of jungle containing the waterfall was considered a paradise as recently as their childhood, and that the place was frequented by many locals up until just a few years previously when people suddenly started disappearing. So did the monsters move in because of the ready food supply? Were they disturbed from hibernation by logging or other industrial operations in the jungle? Were they driven from their usual habitat by hunting or an invasive species?
In the end, it's just another generic monster movie that spends no time on the interesting parts, way too much time with the boring, obnoxious characters, and features a monster that turns out to be just another lame third-generation knockoff of the creatures from The Descent. I love that movie; it deserves to be influential, and in its own context the design of the monsters make perfect sense. Inevitably, almost every wanna-be horror director who was inspired by it took away all the wrong lessons and they all seem to think that Descent's undeniable mojo comes solely from the look of the creatures, and not from the tight script, great performances, and white-knuckle tense direction.
But hey, at least it's better than Animal.
As soon as I saw the creatures, in a trailer or preview or something, I lost interest--I hate that monster appearance. I think of it as "buffy face"--they remind me of the vampires from the Buffy TV series. And its way, way overused.ReplyDelete
Say what you will about Animal (and I will--its terrible), at least the monster looked different.