Tragic Jungle (Selva Trágica)
Banshees. Succubi. Mermaids. No man can resist the deadly temptation of falling under the spell of these mythological female demons. This is the lesson drawn out in the dark, haunted jungle of Selva Tragica.
The story takes place in the rainforest on the border between Mexico and Belize and opens as two young women are being led through the undergrowth by a guide. Dressed in crisp white apron dresses, the pair are being hunted down by an Englishman for reasons unknown. He eventually catches up with them and only Agnes (Indira Andrewin) narrowly escapes with a bullet wound in the hip. She is found unconscious by a worker, hired to extract gum from the trees. He brings her back to his camp where the crew of a dozen become enchanted with her. Originally hired by a wealthy Don, the team decide to steal the gum and sell it to the foreigners, but their greed and the men chasing Agnes threaten at every turn.
Throughout the film, a narrator speaks in an indigenous language, explaining the legend of the Xtabay woman, a spirit of the forest who drives men mad and leads them to ruin. The interaction between the workers and Agnes is fascinating, as they slowly sink into the belief that she is the spirit of the rainforest. As they each feel protective and possessive of her, she maintains control, choosing to sleep with one or ignore the other. They believe her to be a healer in the beginning, but one by one begin to fear her fearlessness and confidence.
Director Yulene Olaizola opts for a muted colour palette and achieves at times a viscerally realist aesthetic. This sombre cinematography imbues the jungle with an ominous atmosphere and helps immerse the viewer in some riveting set pieces.
Unfortunately, the narrative is weighed down by a focus in the wrong direction. Agnes, the protagonist, opens the film as an innocent babe in the woods, being chased by a villain in white. She timidly asks her friend what it’s like to be with a man and when she falls in with the crew, she gains confidence. At the same time, she loses depth and merely becomes a projection of the desires and fears of the workers in the camp. After the opening scene, Agnes barely speaks or gives insight into her experience, which makes the supposed “transformation” from young woman to harbinger of death confusing and awkward.
Andrewin’s performance is captivating and watching her metamorphise is the most fascinating part of the feature but instead of following this thread, the audience is positioned with the crew as they bicker and argue over her and who gets to be the leader. There are thrilling bursts of dark fairy-tale magic that perforate the stark realism, but these moments are few and far between and fail to push the plot in an interesting direction.
Tragic Jungle (Selva Trágica) does not have a UK release date yet.
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