The 1961 disappearance of heir-to-billions Michael Rockefeller in Papua New Guinea is the McGuffin that leads a templated gaggle of unlikable students into hand-held, Blair Witch-style, anthropophagous slaughter in The Punisher director Jonathan Hensleigh’s second outing at the helm.
Shit, I’ve still got to write 500 extra words.
Yet I bet you feel that you have already seen this film, based on the initial paragraph. And, indeed, you probably have. If you’ve seen Cannibal Holocaust, Wrong Turn, Wrong Turn 2, Wolf Creek, Hills Have Eyes (any version or sequel), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (any version or sequel), Zombie Diaries or any of twenty other movies of recent years which lead a small and low-budget group of unknowns into a series of (sometimes) inventive and grisly prosthetic demises, you can count yourself to have already seen WTTJ without the need for further expenditure.
The annoying thing about the film is that some genuinely stellar names are associated with it, and yet the traces of genuine quality and distinguishing virtue that WTTJ possesses remain subdued in the money-spinning boilerplate of hand-held, teen-killing shocker flicks. I can only assume that the likes of producer Gale Ann Hurd (Aliens, Armageddon, Tremors) and Hensleigh (Die Hard With A Vengeance, Con Air, Armageddon, Gone In Sixty Seconds) are writing themselves a hold-over cheque with this film.
The hand-held motif that had a false (but brilliant) start in Blair Witch has now run to a full Hollywood infection that has even overtaken genre greats such as George Romero. Matt Reeves has only just proved – with Cloverfield – that the technique is valid in the right hands, but not every scenario can answer the oft-asked question ‘Why would they keep filming?’ in as adroit a manner, and WTTJ fails that credibility test. About 70 minutes into the plot, you would – trust me – have jettisoned even the most expensive hi-def cameras as ballast and run screaming to the nearest American Embassy.
With the exception of one ‘skewered’ prosthetics shot, which takes place outside of a situation of direct danger and which is a clear ‘homage’ to (i.e. toned-down rip-off of) Cannibal Holocaust, there is very little here for hardened gore-heads to enjoy; flashes of cannibalistic aftermath pop up under a Doom-style torch, and fragments of fleshy horror are found hanging on trees at various points, but that’s about it.
The pursuit of real-life missing-person Rockefeller is an engaging entry, and at one point our cannon-fodder cast buy a cigarette lighter from the locals with the initials MCR, believing themselves to be nearer to a million-dollar story. But the Rockefeller thread is quickly abandoned for Deliverance-style ‘fear of the other’, which even finds the fragmented and arguing group going downriver on a raft, shadowed by cannibal natives in scenes which evoke both Apocalypse Now and John Boorman’s classic tale of city-folk out of their depth.
The latent commentary on American foreign incursion is by now a de facto watermark of these ‘Lost In The Woods’ slasher pics. It comes with the (foreign) territory, but the exotic locations and superior cinematography drive that particular point home more effectively here than in most similar – and slightly lower-budgeted – entries to the genre.
The acting and dialogue are also superior to the likes of Wolf Creek, whose unbearably tedious hour-long character-building preliminaries are reproduced in WTTJ with far greater impact.
As a DVD release, Welcome To The Jungle loses the value of even these minor redeeming merits by being released in an edition with no notable extras, and which locks you into an appalling number of unskippable advertisements – unforgivable for a commercial release intended to buy and keep.