American Tourists travel to Panama and have a very terrifying experience.
December 8, 2015
Zachary Soetenga as Scott
Lindsey McKeon as Steph
Sofia Pernas as Elena
Pierson Fode as Trevor
Indigenous has me on the fence. On one hand it’s a pretty well-shot piece of work with some solid performances, impressive creature makeup and magnetic scenic shots. On the other hand it’s extremely formulaic and cliché, offering very, very little in the way of imaginative plot points. The ebb and flow of the picture make it a mighty challenge to accurately assess. I liked a number of elements of Indigenous, and I disliked quite a few as well. I suppose that deposits us somewhere in the center, or grey area of general grading. It’s no five-star film, and it sure isn’t an outright dud, either.
The film kicks off with a look at Scott – a handsome 20-something (with some impressive techie skills that inadvertently conjure up a bit of cultural commentary) – engaging in a little cell phone (confessional style) video chatter. He’s a little emotional as he reveals that he and his friends are in a world of danger, trapped and hunted in the dark by a mysterious creature in the depths of the jungles of Panama. Rewind a day or so and we see Scott with his buddies – Trevor, Charlie, Steph, Elena, Julio and Carmen – hanging out on the beach, surfing, drinking – doing all the things 20-somethings on vacation do. Later, Scott is researching local activities that might appeal to a tourist when he finds footage of other tourists, lost in the jungle, seemingly being tracked and attacked by an unidentifiable creature. That immediately sparks Scott’s curiosity, and he brings it up to the others in the group later.
Carmen and Julio are natives of Panama. They know about the jungle, the mysterious animals that live there, and more precisely, the very location in which the aforementioned footage was shot. There’s a mystical waterfall located in the depths of the foliage. It promises vitality and thrills, but there are very real dangers in the jungle, and Julio throws out a stern warning to the group: avoid that place like the plague. But Carmen pays no heed, instead, guiding the Americans to that very location the following morning.
All seems well in the brush. The group manages to find the waterfall, enjoy some swimming and horsing around. Trevor is really hitting it off with Carmen, and the two slink away for some nasty play. And then all hell breaks loose. Moments after being disturbed by sounds in the brush, Carmen goes missing, and it isn’t long before the jungle’s predators are stalking the remaining members of the group with true tenacity. These youngsters are picked off systematically until only a few remain, desperate to get the hell out of the jungle and back to civilization before they become a meal for a monster that they’re not suited to wage war with. Can they successfully connect with the outside world to get help sent in their direction, or are they doomed to meet the teeth of a ferocious killer?
Director Alastair Orr does a pretty good job with this material. Because the truth is, the material is the biggest problem here and the feature could have easily nosedived from minute one to minute 86. There’s just zero creativity in the script. Every character comes across as the prototypical horror victim. The loud, brash guy (Trevor) is present, the vulnerable girl suffering from problems at home (Elena) is present, the headstrong thinker of the group (Scott) is accounted for – they’re all here, and they all make the very decisions you’ve come to anticipate. There is very little deviation from the norm here, and when you’re working from a teens run into trouble in the woods idea, you need a little variation to keep things particularly fresh. We don’t get that from the picture, unfortunately. Fortunately for viewers, the direction, the performances and the effects are polished enough to hold our attention.
The creatures – spoiler alert – are actually Chupacabra, the fictional monster popularized in Puerto Rican culture. David LeRoy Anderson and company deserve a wealth of praise for giving us a cool looking monster. These things are a bit reminiscent of the crawlers in Neil Marshall’s The Descent, but they look just unique enough (those teeth!) to avoid any insinuation that they may be ripoffs. It’s also very nice to see some practical work; these creatures are men in makeup – no tragic CGI nonsense from this crew. While the film doesn’t call for a wealth of eye-popping special effects, what it does call for is delivered in very adequate fashion.
Again, the only thing that holds Indigenous back is the absence of ingenuity. Everything feels… safe in the flick. It’s all far too familiar. That is a bummer, but not an outright deal breaker. The look of the flick is clean enough to keep you invested, and the performances are strong enough to keep you invested. The monster designs and execution will keep fans of creature features pleased and the pace of the film is on the viewers’ side. It would have been nice if a few of the off-screen death scenes hadn’t been off-screen (a personal pet peeve), and it would have been amazing had Orr found a way to spin the material in an atypical direction. That doesn’t happen, and the movie does, as a result, fail to surprise in any way. I’m getting a little repetitive here, but I’ll throw it out once more: Indigenous is a fair movie that manages to entertain for an hour and a half, and entertainment, at the end of the day, is arguably the most important aspect and effect of film.