Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Simon George
Written by: Charlie Foley
Starring: Jim Sturgeon, Richard Brake, Simon Ginty, Sam Swainsbury & Ping Medina
CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is the most difficult movie that I’ve had to review for this website. That’s not because the film horribly made or difficult to watch, but rather because there is so little information about this film online. For the past week, Animal Planet has been celebrating Monster Week (with documentaries about man-eating tigers, vicious polar bears, giant crocodiles, killer hornets, etc.). Every single piece of promotion, be it on TV or their website, has been hyping the world premiere of their original movie: THE CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE. Yet, despite this, there is not a full-fledged webpage with details about the film and absolutely no IMDB page yet (which is sort of mind-boggling). Animal Planet hasn’t exactly become known for cinematic prowess (what with titles like KILLER LEECHES and MERMAIDS: THE BODY FOUND), but CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is actually an okay movie of the week that gets slightly more right than it gets wrong.
In the 1970’s, Tim Darrow and two fellow scientists ventured into Indonesian jungles to look for a rare owl. Their expedition didn’t quite go as planned. A bruised Tim Darrow emerged from the jungle and Darrow’s two other companions were killed and apparently eaten by Darrow. To this day, Darrow denies his involvement in their deaths and claims that hobbits (a creature of Indonesian urban legend that’s nowhere near Tolkien related) attacked the trio. With Darrow locked away in an Indonesian prison for decades, a documentary filmmaker decides to venture through the old expedition grounds in search of the mythical man-eating creatures. He might not like what he finds. CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is all fiction, but there are pieces to preexisting folklore and a scientific approach taken to the possible existence of monsters. In other words, this is heads and shoulders above a majority of what Animal Planet has been airing for the past 5 years or so.
CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE has both good and bad qualities. I must give the movie props for not giving too much actual on-screen time to the hobbits themselves. Instead, filmmaker Simon George wisely decides to rely more on sounds, eerie locations and creepy hints at what we’re not seeing. It’s far scarier to see a half-eaten pig, a bunch of footprints and markings on trees rather than ruining any possible suspense by immediately revealing the threat. When the CGI/practical monsters do finally make an appearance, their moments are fleeting and surprisingly effective. The effects used are far better than what I was expecting (KILLER LEECHES was very much in Syfy territory). The narrative being told in a pseudo-documentary format (complete with reenactments, interviews and archive footage) actually works and has a solid entertainment factor to it. While MERMAIDS spent too much time on trying to seem authentic and real, CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE fully knows what it is and embraces that in a mostly positive way.
Where CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE wavers is in the horror movie cliché department. We’ve got characters making really dumb decisions, including the head-slapping mistake of chasing the monster that you were just running away from. There’s an obligatory found footage scene at night with a ton of ominous sounds in the distance. A chase scene that would have been otherwise pretty intense is damn near ruined by indescribable amounts of shaky cam. The most glaring problem comes in the annoying music used throughout. We don’t need a suspenseful tune building up to a guy opening a door and cheerfully saying “Hello!” which is exactly what happens during one scene. You can very much tell CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is a TV movie because there are automatic commercial breaks built into it. These usually come with a cryptic line (including “I found something,” “They are tracking us,” “Did you see that?” and “That’s when I saw it.”) and a loud stinger (usually a boom) following it. It isn’t like these take up a majority of the running time, but they are annoyances throughout.
Overall, CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is an okay TV movie that very much feels like a feature-length version of LOST TAPES (one of the better, earlier episodes, mind you). This movie-of-the-week (in this case, Monster Week) manages to surpass both Syfy Channel and Chiller standards, but suffers from clichés. Knowing what Animal Planet has given us in the past few years, CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is still a bit of a half-hearted victory.