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July 16, 2017

Indigenous

by Franz Patrick


Indigenous (2014)
★ / ★★★★

There is an interesting idea deep inside “Indigenous,” written by Max Roberts and directed by Alastair Orr, a creature-feature ultimately standardized for mass consumption. Halfway through, one of the characters is able to upload a video in which he seeks help after he and his friends have gotten lost in a Panamanian jungle, hunted by chupacabras. The video goes viral within hours and so family, friends, and authorities become aware of what is going on. This is a fresh idea, but it is most frustrating that the filmmakers neglect to play with it.

Instead, we are made to sit through interminable horror picture tropes. Perhaps most painful are would-be intense chases in the jungle where we see only darkness, beams emanating from flashlights, and the camera undergoing seizures. We hear screaming from the women and screeching from the monsters. The men strive to protect their girlfriends. No one says or does anything interesting. And why is this the case given that it is supposedly the characters’ last hurrah before adulthood, holding down “real world” jobs?

Even the environment looks nondescript—a difficult thing to accomplish given that it appears the picture was shot in a believable random forest. By comparison, the setting of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’ “The Blair Witch Project” is more inspired, certainly more ominous. And much of the 1999 classic unfolds during daylight. It is curious that not enough wide shots are employed to make the characters smaller, to make the audience feel or appreciate the presence of the breathing biome.

At least the creatures look somewhat terrifying. I appreciated that these are not CGI creatures. It makes a whole world of difference when a monster’s movements are believable. It helps the performers, too, because they are reacting to something tangible. Perhaps the strongest scene takes place in a cave where one of the American tourists (Pierson Fode) discovers where the bodies are taken to be eaten. It works because the camera is actually able to keep still. The balance of light and darkness is used in an intelligent and thrilling way. Why couldn’t the rest of the picture function on this level?

“Indigenous” had the opportunity to be about many things other than tourists becoming chupacabra food. Had the writers dared to dig deeper, it could have been about young Americans’ lack of respect toward other cultures when visiting foreign lands, challenges couples must endure and go through together so their relationships could evolve, or, perhaps most intriguing, the role of social media in horror movie sort of situations. Perhaps it might have made a better satire. Regardless, the brain simply isn’t there.

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