Frustrating, Uninspired Found-Footage Navigates 'Jungle'

Directed by: Andrew Traucki; Runtime: 84 minutes
Grade: D

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.

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