Friday, July 21, 2023

‘The Cannibal in the Jungle’ – Animal Planet’s Mockumentary Is an Underrated Found Footage Gem

From Haxan to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, horror cinema has been stretching the definition of reality for well over a century now. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who still believes in the “based on a true story” claim that often accompanies genre releases, with most audiences having already come to terms with the fact that Hollywood productions aren’t exactly meant to be educational.

That being said, there are still a few unconventional projects that can successfully blur the line between truth and fiction, such as Animal Planet’s infamous series of cryptid-based mockumentaries which tricked audiences into believing that mermaids and megalodons could be living among us. And while these televised oddities were presented in an admittedly irresponsible manner, there’s no denying that they made for some solid entertainment – and there’s one of these faux documentaries in particular that I think should be seen by more horror fans.

Naturally, I’m referring to Simon George’s highly underrated The Cannibal in the Jungle, a 2015 mockumentary that uses its unique format to tell an anthropologically charged story that harkens back to the origins of the found footage genre while also serving as one of the most fascinating horror movies in recent memory.

Presented as a feature-length true-crime special about an American scientist who was accused of murdering and consuming the remains of his fellow explorers while on an expedition in 1970s Indonesia, the film dives into speculative paleontology as it uses interviews, re-enactments and recovered 8mm footage to try and prove Dr. Timothy Darrow’s innocence. Along the way, we’re introduced to the supposedly extinct Homo Floresiensis, a diminutive species of humanoid which Dr. Darrow claims to be responsible for the deaths of his colleagues.

Cannibal in the Jungle animal planet

Scarier than stick figures…

Featuring a believable premise and authentic formatting, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is just another well-produced (albeit slightly sensationalist) documentary about a real-world tragedy. However, the film soon reveals itself to be much more terrifying than your average Animal Planet special, diving into dark subject matter such as kangaroo courts and the titular cannibalism.

While the made-for-TV budget means that special effects shots are few and far in between, with the film featuring quite a bit of questionable CGI enhancements (usually relegated to the exaggerated reenactments), The Cannibal in the Jungle is still miles ahead of most other Found Footage productions. From shooting on location to featuring some legitimate bits of science mixed in with the fiction, this strange special boasts production value that you don’t usually see in this kind of genre movie, further adding to its authenticity.

In fact, it’s pretty clear that Simon George is intimately familiar with the documentary format, as the director had already worked on countless non-fiction specials as well as some horror-oriented ghost hunting shows before tackling The Cannibal in the Jungle. With that kind of baggage, it makes sense that he’d know the limitations of the format when trying to make this absurd concept be taken seriously.

Honestly, my biggest gripe with the film’s believability has to do with how the filmmakers simply slap on a Super 8 filter onto obviously digital footage in an attempt to pass them off as genuine recordings. Not only does this take you out of the experience, but it’s also a missed opportunity, considering how grainy lo-fi footage would have made these human-adjacent predators even more terrifying by better masking the special effects work.

Cannibal in the Jungle richard brake

A familiar face!

Some of the minor characters can also give away the fact that this is a scripted program, with several instances of the interviewees delivering overly-theatrical lines that clash with the general sense of realism. Fortunately, the film also boasts an unexpectedly compelling performance by none other than Richard Brake as the ill-fated Dr. Darrow, with the alleged cannibal providing his own testimony through “archival footage” from prison. These are some of the best segments of the film, as Brake brings some much-needed gravitas to the role and makes you feel genuinely sorry for this lone survivor.

Other than starring a bona fide genre veteran, the mockumentary also features a handful of tongue-in-cheek horror references. Characters refer to a Dr. J. Voorhees during interviews and many of the camera setups appear to be deliberate homages to Ruggero Deodato’s controversial Cannibal Holocaust. Thankfully, these shout-outs are kept subtle enough to avoid ruining viewer immersion, though I would have appreciated it if the script actually made a direct mention of Deodato’s classic mockumentary due to both films’ similar subject matter.

Regardless, The Cannibal in the Jungle is a much smarter experience than you might initially give it credit for, with George’s confident misdirection allowing us to keep our suspension of disbelief intact as we tag along on this doomed voyage. Sure, the more you think about the film the less sense it makes – I mean, it’s pretty silly to imagine that 4-foot-tall hobbit people would pose any real threat to full-grown adults, and that’s not even mentioning how the “Ebu Gogo” aren’t really cannibals since they’re technically eating another species – but that’s precisely why this story could only have worked in this format.

While I still think that Animal Planet presenting The Cannibal in the Jungle as a genuine documentary special is irresponsible at best and actively criminal at worst (especially after the covid pandemic proved that disinformation can be deadly), I’d still recommend seeking out this weird little flick if you’re a fan of down-to-earth horror and speculative science fiction. It’s not quite as terrifying as other similar mockumentaries such as Savageland or even Lake Mungo, but the film’s strange origins and curious subject matter make it a must-watch for Found-Footage enthusiasts.

The post ‘The Cannibal in the Jungle’ – Animal Planet’s Mockumentary Is an Underrated Found Footage Gem appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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