AFI Fest: Tragic Jungle (Selva Trágica) Review

Mexican filmmaker Yulene Olaizola’s Tragic Jungle invites the viewer into a look of desire, pleasure amongst a beautiful jungle. In this jungle along the Rio Hondo, the film follows Agnes (Indira Andrewin) in her attempt to escape from a British landowner who she does not want to marry. As the British landowner (Dale Carley) is looking for her, she narrowly escapes with her life and is discovered by local gum tree workers who rescue her and trap her. Beautifully shot by Sofia Oggioni, Tragic Jungle becomes a story not only about Agnes but about the jungle itself, wherein it exacts revenge on the men who would seek to use it for their sick deeds.

Indira Andrewin’s Anges is a woman of little words, but literally and in her body language. For much of the film, she walks through the jungle and seems to be more of an avatar for the viewer to put their ideologies into than a fully realized person. Some of the gum tree workers even enforce this by repeatedly stating she may be Xtabay, a Mayan demon who steers men towards their death by using her beautiful looks. Sure enough, shortly after her arrival, the men are picked off one by one.

Olaizola creates an atmosphere of something lurking around every corner of the jungle the entirety of the film. It’s the jungle, so you could die from falling, getting mauled by an animal, or attacks by other people roaming the jungle. 

In creating this tone, Olaizola struggles to maintain the characterization of the actors themselves. I often felt like you could switch an actor out, and I wouldn’t be able to notice because the gum tree workers seem to be given little to actually do in the film other than die off. 

If you can ignore the structural problems, Tragic Jungle is an interesting look at a jungle in between borders and how that affects the culture, creating an atmosphere of constant uncertainty. Paired with Oggoni’s use of shadows and composer Alejandro Otaola’s creeping score, immersing the viewer into the same kind of terror that the characters are going through within its story.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Tragic Jungle does not have US distribution at this time.