In November 1961 Michael Clark Rockefeller, 22 year old son of the vice president of the USA and heir to the Rockefeller fortune suddenly went missing in a boating accident in the Asmat region of New Guinea. His body was never to be found even after many extensive searches of the region by the Dutch Authorities. Unsurprisingly the mystery of his disappearance has given rise to many stories over the years. One of the stories that has gained much popularity and notoriety was that he was cannibalised by the local indigenous tribes.
The film begins with four adolescents that are on holiday in Suva Fiji. There are two girls being Mandi (Sandi Gardner) and Bijou (Veronica Sywak) and two guys named Colby (Callard Harris) and Mikey (Nickolas Richey). The four of them simply hook up as couples whilst having a good time in Fiji. One evening, whilst drinking in a nearby bar, a local pilot fills in the two guys about a recent sighting of a 70 year old man who was spotted in New Guinea. A 70-year old Caucasian male, white bearded and spectacled I hear you say ? That's enough to give rise to a loosely fangled notion that it may actually have been Michael Rockefeller. Well, it's the sort of nonsense that youngsters like to latch onto and it's enough for this four to conjure up a hair brain scheme of their own.
They decide to travel across to Papua New Guinea on an adventure holiday to seek out the mystery of Michael Rockerfeller. They've got nothing better to do with their time so why not ? The fact that when Rockerfeller originally went missing in 1961, the search for him was considered to be one of the largest manhunts for a missing person ever staged seems to have completely passed them by. Why four young backpackers think that they can find the answers over 40 years down the line simply by trekking into the jungle along with a plentiful supply of booze, cigarettes and a handicam beggars belief ? The only thing more ridiculous would be that someone would actually choose to make a film about this. Oh dear.....someone actually has. That someone is Director Jonathan Hensleigh (The Punisher) and it's a bit of a surprise that he chose to take on such a micro-budgeted film such as this. Anyway all this pretty much sets the stall for the level of expectation you should expect for rest of the movie and it doesn't fail in that respect. I have to say you do sense from quite early on in the film that it's going to become a bit of a chore to have to sit through.
The filming is done in the style of a handicam approach. The Blair Witch Project has done this all before and it was done far, far better. Blair Witch also had the benefit of being original when using this style of filming, Welcome to the Jungle does not. The whole thing here never once feels like anyone from within the group was actually filming the events. It feels completely unauthentic and very pseudo like as a result. It's almost as if the camera crew actually wanted to use still camera shots but someone else had decided that a few simple camera shakes would suffice to give it that home made feel. It doesn't work at all well, it's highly annoying and the whole thing feels incredibly staged.
The majority of the film revolves around the two couples simply acting like idiots, pretending to talk into a video diary whilst on this randomly wild goose chase of a trek into the New Guinea Jungle. There is a complete lack of cohesion to a storyline or a script of any sorts that could possibly have brought much sense to proceedings. At times it feels the script is simply let loose and the unknown actors are allowed to ad lib their way through scenes. So, for the most part the storyline is simply non-existent and the script never develops anything beyond that. Much of the story is also padded out with the moronic naivety of youth, disrespect of indigenous cultures and the couples reliance upon the excesses of cigarettes and alcohol to maintain a level of sanity. As I say it all feels highly staged and the acting for the most part is predictably and disappointingly poor. The actors are all young and relative unknowns and their performances unfortunately live up to their credentials.
In order to salvage a storyline proceedings focus upon the relationship of the two couples and how that degrades over the few days that they are together in the jungle. It turns from warm friendship to a distinct loathing of each other's company. Over an hour of the movie is spent simply following and focussing on these rather pointless aspects of the couples behaviour and it becomes rather tiresome all too soon.
As far as the remainder of the movie goes the horror actually only begins in the last 15-20mins or so of the film. However, I must warn you that horror is probably an over descriptive of what actually happens. Anyhow, the group by this time have eventually ventured so far into the jungle that they have come across an ancient Asmat burial ground. Rather foolishly they desecrate the grounds. Unbeknown to them and completely out of their comprehension why a desecration would quite possibly rile the Asmat cannibals, Mikey then proceeds to steal a skull. It doesn't take long after for the four intrepid adventurers to have yet another pointless argument, following which the couples split to find their own way back home.
Events unfold like clockwork after this and the film is literally over within 15 or so very brief minutes. Quite disappointingly everything here is also quite uneventful as well as highly predictable. The cannibals are very muted and non-descript beings. Nothing they do could remotely be considered pro-active in attempting to stop the young couples from escaping. If anything the cannibals are depicted as rather static looking dummies that the kids simply stumble into. It's all very blasé and even the cannibals don't take much time to sever their victim's limbs or relish putting them to their deaths. The gore lasts pretty much under a minute.
It's quite difficult to call Welcome to the Jungle a horror movie as for the most part it is nothing of the sort. It's simply a video diary of four foolish youngsters and the events of a far-fetched adventure trip into the jungles of New Guinea. The whole thing is derivative stuff and it barely tries to disguise its un-originality. I would imagine most viewers would wonder about what they have just witnessed for the 82-minute duration as to whether it was actually worthwhile ? You may also be left wondering if it should have actually been classified as a horror.
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