Tuesday, September 29, 2015

10 Great Films Set In the Jungle

There's something that just draws me into films set in the jungle. It was the setting for my first short story written around fifth grade.

The tribalism, the raw unpredictable forces of nature. In the cases of Apocalypse Now, Sorcerer, and Fitzcarraldo, you can feel the authentic danger of the set. Some of the wildest behind the scenes stories were born from these movies.

10. The Serpent and the Rainbow

Not a big Wes Craven fan by any stretch. He's made a few films that I genuinely enjoy and out of those film, my favorite is Serpent and the Rainbow. Craven taps into something diabolical here: Haitian voodoo. It offers a refreshing take on the zombie and the hallucination sequences are Craven at his peak.

9. Predator
This film has so many quotable lines from just about every member of the cast. Each cast member is memorable and that stands as a testament to John McTiernan's direction. A boot camp movie just like Platoon a year after, you get a real sense of the jungle as the marines go deeper into it. You also get to see it get torn apart by a minigun and grenade launchers, so there's that. 

8. The Thin Red Line

The most poetic movie on the list. Polynesian chants and Jim Caviezel swimming with natives are the first things that come to my mind when I think about this movie. It explores nature in a lyrical, graceful way and shows how it nestles beside brutal conflict in times of war. Malick is able to capture the geography of the area with ease so you know exactly where you are. There's an expansiveness to the movie that is not just in part to the ensemble of actors, but of  John Toll's framing.

7. Platoon
"You volunteered for this shit man?" 
Oliver Stone's own personal experiences in the Vietnam War fueled his passion to depict it on the big screen. It begins with a memorable opening. The ants and mosquitos. Falling asleep while on a shift. Stone gets the exhaustion and environment down to a science.  

6. Cannibal Holocaust
1 minute in- Wow this looks pretty peaceful. A relaxing score and beautiful panoramas. I don't know what they were talking about. 30 minutes in- What the fuck! Is that? Oh god!

Between all the abhorrent scenes of torture, the impaling of a woman and degradation perpetuated onto villagers by the four main documentarians, it is easy to see why the movie has such a reputation. The difference between this and other movies like A Serbian Film is the way it was shot. CH is ugly, crude, rough. It grips you by the hair and drags you through the jungle. Even among other cannibal movies of that time- Umberto Lenzi would release Cannibal Ferox a year later- it stands above. There is a savagery to the movie that is unmatched.

5. Aguirre: Wrath of God
From the opening scene, Herzog shows how nature dwarfs man. Man and nature has been a reoccuring theme in his works and he really is the guy that first comes to mind when you think about eccentric, will stop at nothing to get that shot kind of directors. Truly fearless. The best thing about watching a Herzog film is not knowing what part of the world he will take you to. 

4. Southern Comfort
Walter Hill never really got the appreciation he deserved. He was on a streak with The Driver, The Warriors, but he reached his peak with Southern Comfort. It can be viewed as a metaphor for Vietnam, though Hill denies this. It's got a stand of DNA it shares with Cannibal Holocaust in that the National Guardsmen are as tribal as the backwoodsmen they are fighting. A hidden gem. 

3. Fitzcarraldo/Burden of Dreams
There's always two go to documentaries if I ever wanted to show people the insanity of making a film: Hearts of Darkness and Burden of Dreams.

How do you convince a tribe to pull a three story, 320-ton steamship over a steep jungle portage? You contact Werner. Fucking. Herzog. That's how you do it. I can't imagine any other director going these lengths. The cinematography by Thomas Mauch, who photographed another Herzog movie in the list, (Agguirre) beautifully captures the jungle and human spirit's quest to make a place in it.

2. Sorcerer

I remember showing my girlfriend this film. 20 minutes in she commented on it being nihilistic, exhausting and utterly dark. This was before the meat of the plot was introduced. It's reactions like that to films like these that signal one thing: the filmmaker succeeded. You feel the sweat, dirt, and grit as these four guys travel through the jungle with nitro glycerin in the back of their trucks. It's as tense a film Friedkin ever made, And he made The Exorcist.This film is top 10 worthy.

1. Apocalypse Now

What more can I say about this movie? A massive influence on my writing and a film that I always learn new things from each time I watch it.


  1. Brilliant post! Of what I've seen here, you can really see how the jungle atmosphere plays such a huge part in the progression of themes and story. The intensity, emotional and physical, that comes from manipulating the scenery is so rich and entrancing. GREAT job here, buddy. Been missing your posts and comments. Hope everything is going well.

    1. Thanks! Things are well. Expect more tomorrow. It's October. Favorite month of the year!

  2. Excellent list! Predator is my favorite film on here, but you really nailed it all around.

    And I lol'd at your Cannibal Holocaust comments.

    1. Haha. Thank you so much! Predator is so watchabl.

  3. I've seen few of these. I guess they're either war movies or scary movies, and i've seen the war ones.