Urubú Movie Review
Written by Ryan Holloway
Released by Protintel
Directed by Alejandro Ibáñez
Written by Written by Alejandro Heredia, Carlos Bianchi and Alejandro Ibáñez
2019, 90 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Grimmfest UK Premiere on 11th October 2020
Carlos Urrutia as Tomás
Clarice Alves as Eva
Jullie D’Arrigo as Andrea
Alejandro Ibáñez as Capitán Nauta
Urubú Writer-Director Alejandro Ibáñez is the son of Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, director of the cult-hit Who Can Kill a Child? aka Island of the Damned, the 1976 Spanish horror about an English couple who find an island overrun with maniacal kids. Ibáñez describes his film as a tribute to his father’s film, but it’s really more of a reimagining that clearly also owes a lot to such notorious films as Cannibal Holocaust. So, get ready for heady realism and more than a little blood.
Tomás, a photographer and ornithologist is fixated on getting a shot of a rare and mysterious bird: The Albino Urubú. His obsession has created a huge rift between him and his wife Eva, and even his tablet-obsessed daughter Andrea, who he drags along to the jungle in search of the elusive creature. The trip of course turns into a nightmare as, once on location, they realise they are not alone and there is danger around every tree.
The film starts strong as we follow the family on their adventure, first stopping off at a hotel on the mainland before hitching a ride on the ‘Paulo Roberto’, a boat owned by the rugged Capitán Nauta played by Alejandro Ibáñez himself, who is troubled by the journey as there has been news of people going missing on their route.
From the get-go Tomás (Urrutia) and Eva (Alves) are clearly in huge trouble. Eva takes any and every opportunity to complain about being taken on a trip that her husband swears is going to be a magical experience. Throw a child into the mix who is glued to her tablet and it is the perfect recipe for the holiday from hell, but oh boy they have no idea!
The couple becomes even more strained as Capitán Nauta’s flirtations don’t go unnoticed by the bird loving hubby and Eva isn’t exactly discouraging it. There’s swimming, fishing and flirting and all seems pretty good so far. Along the river, however, Tomás spots something sinister through his camera but keeps it to himself so as to not derail, or in this case sink, his chances of getting a shot of the damn bird he keeps banging on about. Instead of taking them the whole way Nauta calls their guide, and owner of the house they will be staying at, who comes to meet them on the river and soon gets them settled in.
The next day, when Tomás finally gets to work on taking pictures, things begin to unravel. Their guide goes off on a walk, but as it starts to get dark panic sets in, and they realise they can’t wait for him and head off to the house. Once there, things really start to kick off and when Andrea goes missing, presumably looking for a power point, they’re forced to go out into the jungle where they finally realise why people have been going missing and let’s just say it’s all very Lord of the Flies!
The real problem is that even once the third act kicks in the pacing doesn’t change, there is little to no tension and instead of building it just feels drawn out and lethargic. A search for a missing daughter just doesn’t feel frantic enough and there is too much stillness in the camera work. Ibáñez has a background in documentary filmmaking and while this adds realism it also feels a little too at odds with the film’s attempts to build tension. There are just so many sweeping shots of the river and the jungle and once you add the very dramatic score from Arturo Díez Boscovich it feels so much like a BBC documentary you’ll swear you can hear David Attenborough’s earthy tones.
The documentary ‘feel’ works best when a little rough and ready but here it’s just too controlled and glossy and clearly the work of a documentarian rather than a seasoned feature film director. There are also so many shots that look like they come straight out of the portfolio of a photojournalist and this is certainly great to look at – I'll bet the behind the scenes shots are beautiful – but it just feels too set up and doesn’t quite work in taking us on the same journey as the characters.
Luckily if it’s gore you’re after then you’re in luck, it gets bloodthirsty, and even though it may feel like something of a pay-off it just never escapes the controlled feel and thus sadly fails to really pull you in. Although the cast give it their all, we also never really get invited in enough to feel anything for them either way. What is driving Tomás’ preoccupation with getting this photo? Why does Eva not support him on his journey? You’ll find yourself wanting more flesh on the bones (Trust me, that’s an excellent pun).
There is so much to appreciate about Urubú, but it just feels a little flat and glossy. Perhaps it would have worked better if a littler rougher around the edges.
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