Director Alastair Orr and writer Max Roberts – who, oddly, does not receive an IMDb credit – weave together a combination of The Ruins (2008) and The Descent (2015) in the vacation-gone-wrong creature feature Indigenous (2015) available now from Momentum Pictures. A group of five friends follow a local guide into the jungles of Panama only to encounter hungry, deadly Chupacabra monsters. The film builds its premise pretty quickly and painlessly, establishing the cast of characters, their trip to visit a mysterious and mystical water fall in the jungle and utilizing the exotic locals to its benefit. Orr combines the out-of-their-element paranoia with an ominous soundtrack to establish a sense of foreboding and doom. While Scott, Steph and their friends are oblivious to the danger they are stumbling into, the guide’s brother races to prevent their entering the jungles. The film makers set the stage for the monsters to appear leaving the audience waiting for their reveal. Once they do appear, however, the action is chaotic and frantic, never gelling in a cohesive and fascinating way. For a good portion of the film, the story become tired and predictable despite the writer’s designs to introduce a number of surprising and game changing twists. In the end Indigenous is better than many similar films but never reaching the full potential of its concept and creatures.
Indigenous spends its first act establishing its core characters Scott (Zachary Soetenga), Steph (Lindsey McKeon), Charlie (Jamie Anderson), Elena (Sofia Pernas) and Trevor (Pierson Fode). Unfortunately they are not the most interesting of characters never reaching past stereotypical with the weakest attempts to give them a bromidic amount of depth – such as being worried about paying off school loans and getting laid. The characters are so vanilla and so similar it becomes difficult to tell them apart when their running through the darkened jungle. This becomes a huge problem making it nearly impossible to be overly concerned about their survival or their demise. Once the creatures attack, the pacing and editing keep things elevated but whenever the action slows down to establish who remains alive, the dialog deflates the film quickly. Their local guide, Carmen (Laura Panuela) quickly becomes the most interesting character in the film but sadly – small spoiler – she becomes an early victim disappearing before the film shifts into a full-on creature feature.
The Chupacabra occupying Indigenous are frightening enough, fanged, fierce and monstrous; but, they are also very familiar in their appearance, resembling the beasts in films like Descent. Their design lacks that extra touch needed to set them apart, to make them memorable, to have them leave a lasting impression. They are effective but only adequately so. The editing and sound design surrounding the creatures makes up for their visuals providing jumps scares and skin crawling screeches and screams. The gore is sparse but effective when utilized, a broken bone here, a scarred up face there and a decapitated head thrown in for good measure. Together, there is an ample amount of monster-filled grue to keep horror fans interested. How captivated the audience will become may depend on how easily distracted one is during the viewing of the film.
The film adds an interesting element that both helps and hinders the film. Carmen’s brother is set on rescuing the “gringos” and his sister from their jungle perils, but he is not up to doing so alone. He flees the jungle outskirts to enlist the help of the local militia. In an unusual turn, their plight becomes a media event when Scott is able to send a video to social media. This is an interesting and promising concept. It is actually far more interesting than the cast who is lost in the jungle. But it is also overly awkward as new characters are introduced and focused upon with only 30 minutes left in the film. It is such a contrast to the jungle elements that it is more distracting to the story thus far established. The focus of the film shifts from the creatures themselves to the attempts to locate and rescue the tourist and the media’s coverage, then abruptly back to the tourist aimlessly trying to escape, then back to the militia and media once again. The independently effective and shocking attack on one tourist as she runs into a clearing is caught on live news feeds shocking the news room and family members watching on their TV is so narratively different than the previous and following events that it is more jarring than cohesive.
Indigenous is too scattered and confused to become an impressive and compelling feature. It gets admirably close featuring a handful of fascinating and promising ideas. Unfortunately the varied ideas do not necessarily fit together as well as intended giving the film a disjointed and rambling feel and tone. The cast is a good as they can be with the loosely conceived characters and they all fit too neatly into the same mold to make one stand out along side the others. This prevents the audience from becoming fully engaged in their story, in the monsters they face and in the film itself. The creatures are similarly handled, there is enough to make them menacing and ferocious but nothing to make them stand out from similar creature features on Netfix or Redbox at any given time. The best parts of the film, the elements that do make it stand out the most, are slapped on toward the conclusion in a haphazard fashion creating more bewilderment than satisfaction. The film leaves you wanting more monsters – but not in the best way – and more of the rescue and media attention casting most sympathy for the main cast carelessly aside for a get-to-it tone and pacing. Sadly, Indigenous should be left lost in the jungle.
Indigenous (2 / 5)