Review by Sean Boelman
On the festival circuit, there are flashy international films that get a lot of attention and become the awards contenders, and those that make a quieter splash but are often even more unique and authentic. Yulene Olaizola’s Tragic Jungle falls into the latter category as one of the most unsung indie gems of the year.
The movie follows a young Belizean servant who, after running away from her European captors, takes refuge with a group of Mexican gum workers who begin to experience a series of strange occurrences. Rooted in Latin American mythology, this is a surreal and constantly perplexing mystery that is very thought-provoking about what viewers both see and feel.
Much of the film defies narrative convention, and this is a large part of what will keep viewers on their toes for a majority of the runtime. It feels as if everything is intricately designed to be unsettling but not quite uncomfortable. The movie is never slow, but it also isn’t traditionally-paced, with the main conflict of the film not even being introduced until the second act.
There is a lot to be said in this movie as well. On one level, there is the old adage, “No good deed goes unpunished,” but there’s also something even more interesting happening not too far beneath the surface. The film explores how it is not the colonizers, but the people being “colonized” that are punished by the sins of colonization.
The character development in the movie is also very unorthodox. The film is constantly shifting where the audience's sympathies should lie. Much of the challenge is the fact that the audience doesn’t know what the characters’ motivation are, and although the constantly shifting dynamics may be off-putting to those who are impatient, it will be intriguing to anyone else.
Indira Rubie Andrewin gives a phenomenal performance in her leading role. Much like the material of the movie itself, her turn is subtle and packed with emotion. She brings an alluring and mysterious quality to the character, which helps build the mythological elements of the film. The supporting cast is also solid, but they are there mostly to support Andrewin.
Additionally, the movie looks absolutely gorgeous. The Mexican jungle lends a lush and vibrant environment for the film, but the way in which Olaizola uses it is even more impressive. The focus is largely on creating a feeling of claustrophobia despite the vast and expansive nature of the jungle, and she is able to pull it off.
Tragic Jungle is a thought-provoking and unique movie. Although its unorthodox pacing and characterization may prevent it from going mainstream, its ideas and execution make it an indie worth the shot.
Tragic Jungle screened at the 2020 AFI FEST which runs virtually October 15-22.