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Tragic Jungle - Netflix film review

★★★

Directed by #YuleneOlaizola

 
Agnes, Jacinto and Cacique surrounded by the leaves of the jungle.
Tragic Jungle film poster

A woman flees into the depths of a Mayan jungle and is forced to confront nature as untamed. Both unnerving and unruly in equal measures Selva Trágica (Tragic Jungle) is a ninety-minute exploration of those trapped in the trees and none of what they are forced to confront is what it seems.


Indira Rubie Andrewin portrays Agnes, a young woman fleeing being forced into an arranged marriage, is taken in by a group of Mayan men after becoming lost. The film tells us the setting is the border between Mexico and (now-called) Belize in the 1920s, but refuses to give any further information. Agnes’ story is not given to us directly, with the film instead removing context to maintain confusion and then just as the narrative begins to make sense, the film twists and makes you lose your bearings again. The storytelling is minimal, yet intelligent, as the jungle overwhelms its inhabitants.


Tragic Jungle arguably participates in the Slow Cinema genre, with plenty of long scenes with no dialogue and the sounds of nature overlapping each other to further build an eerie space. It is like waiting for the jump scare that never arrives, making it all the more thrilling to watch. A sense of dread continually builds as Agnes and the group of men exist in the jungle. With an absence of music and any score, except for the sounds of animals and plant life, watching this film forces you to rely on your sensory response to the film.


Senses are stimulated and overwhelmed throughout the film, with frequent shots of dirt and scrubbing dirt away, along with the sounds of walking through mud, washing, and the repetitive process of getting and making gum from the jungle trees. This focus on the physicality of the body in relation to movement and the strains of labour is incredibly over-sensory and only adds to any feeling of discomfort that audiences may feel. The camera is often at eye-level, adding to the immersive nature of every scene.


Although well acted, Tragic Jungle falls short in parts mostly due to its treatment of power and control. The men believe that they have control over Agnes, being the only women that they encounter in the entire ninety-minute film, with her ultimately resorting to using her sexuality to gain power over them. This makes the discussions of race and cultural divisions feel slightly overlooked. These characters establishments and motivations could be much better, but if the point of the film is to be completely disorienting, it succeeds.


By far the best character in this film is the jungle, unwelcoming and unassuming. The soundscape is both haunting and tranquil as animals wander past the camera and go against every expectation. Lack of context and motivation makes the jungle location feel lost in time. Amongst the beautiful landscape shots of the wildlife, a fear of nature and its power lurks expertly in every scene. This contrasts intelligently with the repetitive sounds of human noise, making the men sound mechanical in comparison. Varying noises collapsing together in this way is confusing, but makes a beautiful effect.


Whilst it is clever to showcase the gradual demise of characters, after the first half of the film Tragic Jungle does begin to unravel and the plot falls apart. What started as a promising premise unfortunately falls a bit short by the end, as concepts of colonialism, toxic masculinity and the woman as the exotic Other all blend together.


Suffice to say, I am not sure what to make of Tragic Jungle, but its beautiful concept and expert camerawork makes me appreciate the eerie story that it is trying to tell. If you are a fan of Slow Cinema and incredibly aesthetic films, it is worth watching.

 

Tragic Jungle is currently streaming on Netflix UK. Watch the trailer here:

 

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