“Flash, bang, wallop – what? A picture!”
Following up on their successfully crunchy collaboration in Raze, director Waller and star Bell head into the jungle and back to the eighties – an era before cell-phones and digital cameras – for this story of one woman’s fight for survival against a band of Colombian rebels, led by Spanish immigrant, Guillermo (Vigalondo). In this case, the woman is Avery Taggart (Bell), a lauded war photographer whose latest mission is to cover the enigmatic yet charismatic Guillermo, whose mission initially appears as much philanthropic as military. Keyword: initially. For Avery stumbles into the rebel’s darker side, witnessing, and worse, photographing him carrying out a drug deal, then slitting the throat of an inconveniently-passing local child. Knowing this revelation would destroy him, Guillermo blames Avery for the murder, and sets out after her with his group, intent on preventing the incriminating film from getting out of the jungle. However, it won’t be easy: Avery has picked up a few survival skills from her life during wartime, and some of Guillermo’s foot-soldiers are unconvinced by his explanation.
I think the first surprise here is the opening chunk, before she goes into the jungle, which has Bell delivering the most intense acting of her career. Quite a discomforting performance too, it has to be said, and I did wonder if I was watching the right film for a bit. Fortunately, we’re eventually on the right track; nobody will exactly have rented this to watch Zoë emote in a hotel room, surprisingly impressive though it is. The action here is brutal: while the body-count is relatively small – compared, say to Raze – nobody dies quickly here at all, with demises which seem to stretch out forever. The peak is probably the first fight, in which Avery is stalked by Guillermo’s psychopathic lieutenant. This turns into a knock-down, drag-out brawl that is relentless and hardcore. Nothing after can quite compare, to be honest. The ending of the main story thread is, entirely deliberately, understated and almost casual, though a coda delivers a satisfactory payoff.
You do wonder how a photographer is able to do more than hold her own against jungle-hardened soldiers; I was half-expecting a further appendix scene where Avery turned out to be a CIA agent of some kind. [Truth be told, I wouldn’t have minded!] Vigalondo makes for a decent villain, if a little too verbose; had this had actually been made in the mid-80’s, rather than just set there, it would have been a perfect role for Klaus Kinski, and Nacho puts over a similar mix of thinly-disguised psychopath. The jungle almost becomes a supporting character here, abetted by an unusual, crunchy yet chewy soundtrack from electronic project Kreng. The film might have benefited from some editing and the script an additional polish. But, as expected, it’s Bell’s show and she delivers the convincing mix of elegance and physicality we have come to appreciate, like a tightly-wound spring inside a camera case.
Dir: Josh C. Waller
Star: Zoë Bell, Nacho Vigalondo, Francisco Barreiro, Sheila Vand