Generally my horror movie philosophy is pretty similar to David Lynch’s views on coffee: even a bad horror film is better than no horror films at all. But the Panamian tourism bureau horror fim Indigenous really tests my faith in that sentiment. A movie about dumb, pretty white people stomping through Central America, where terms like “needledick” are considered the height of hilarity and lines like “she’s just being a woman” are said without an ounce of self-awareness, Indigenous isn’t explicit enough to satisfy gorehounds, too dumb to be artsy and not even full of enough nudity to titillate bored adolescents. It’s slightly more technically competent than Birdemic which means it is also vastly less fun.
Indigenous‘ plot is unsurprisingly barebones, following a group of rich assholes who like to find risky surfing spots and are at the tail end of what is apparently a lengthy trip around the globe. They have inexplicably worked their way towards Panama, where one of these anonymous trust funders finds out about a stretch of jungle called the Darien Gap, which is apparently so dense and foreboding, it serves as the only insurmountable obstacle for anyone hoping to drive from the tip of the North American continent to the bottom of the South America. Naturally this means our batch of generically beautiful youth must shack up with some native Panamians in the hopes of getting them to help the gringos navigate the fierce terrain. Luckily, one young Panamian woman who is smart enough to say no to casual sex with the most “needledicked” of the gang is still reckless enough to take them to a gorgeous waterfall conveniently located right in the center of the forbidden territory.
The territory is forbidden because a chupacabra lives there, which we find out during a requisite “forgettable blonde lead guy searches the internet” scene, where it’s revealed that tourists have been disappearing in the jungles around the waterfall, but not before uploading videos of their demise to not-YouTube. Tellingly, Indigenous struggles to decide what kind of horror film it wants to be, so this isn’t the first or last time found footage material worms its way in. Scott (Zachary Soetenga) isn’t merely a forgettable blonde lead, he is also the developer of some nebulous social media platform that allows people to shoot videos of themselves and instantly send them to all of their contacts across every social media service. So, basically SnapChat. Most of the time he uses this to make childish dick jokes with his friends while they show off their abs but occasionally director Alastair Orr remembers found footage horror is hot right now and we get a few scenes from this perspective. But the bulk of the movie has the appearance of a Bacardi commercial, or maybe the beach party B-roll footage you see at vaguely Hawaiian themed burger joints. It’s all close shots of young bodies, undulating and sweating and being SEXY. When the crew are in the sinister pits of the jungle, the only real difference is that everything has a green and yellow filter and the people are sweatier and dirtier than they were a moment ago.
All of these things are mostly forgivable in the realm of horror. Poorly acted stock characters that no one likes anyway can serve as decent butcher block material. Bland initial visuals get a pass if the effects and creature design are competent. Hell, smart sound design alone can save a horror flick. Alas, Indigenous can’t accomplish a single one of these things. By the time the chupacraba-esque monstrosity rears its ugly head, it’s a massive letdown, looking like Old Gregg if he had served time as a shelved extra from The Descent. What its abilities are isn’t even clarified– it’s described as blood sucking and has an Alien-like tongue but all it seems to do is rip out people’s hair and break their limbs in order to drag them back to its cave, where it feasts on their marrow in between guano snacking. Admittedly, things get slightly gorier in this stretch, but the heavy filters and nonsensical framing make it pretty hard to decipher exactly what damage has been done to our pretty gringos anyway so who cares.
By its end, Indigenous has given up any pretense of being a competent if boring film and becomes a bit more fun thanks to the sheer zaniness of its closing arc. Whether the go-for-broke goofiness of the climax is enough to salvage the monotonous first two thirds of the film depends on your tolerance for bad movies but even so, one has to wonder why the filmmakers didn’t operate this way from the start. Instead, Indigenous is an entirely unmemorable work, incapable of providing scares or awe or even giggles.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover