Mel Gibson may have got into a bit of bother in recent times, but he is a decent actor and director. Here we have Apocalypto, a film about violence, Gibson’s favourite type of film. He probably wished he was Mayan like so he could be tortured on-screen once more.
A group of peaceful Mayans like to laugh and hunt, such a happy group of people! This first tiny segment of the film makes the characters a likable bunch of people so when an all powerful Mayan group capture and slaughter the village, you already care. Especially with the intensity of the bludgeoning and running. From being captured they set out unknown to what their fate will be. It sticks with the group and protagonist, Jaguar Paw, as they basically get tortured a lot.
The film is pretty gruesome and seems to be one of the selling points. No blood on-screen is a time of confusion, it’s such a rarity, and if someone isn’t being murdered every five minutes, something must be wrong. It’s incredibly intense as you watch the Mayans journey and each scene gets more and more unlikely for their survival. The moment they are put up for sacrifice is a moment when you just expect the worst and the graphic display of ritual is sickening. Unfortunately this scene has an incredibly convenient way for the hero to get out of it, one which could also be called a Deux Ex Machina. It felt that way to me. Though we need the hero alive so we can have the rather brilliant survival in the jungle final act.
The film doesn’t have any calms instead opting for scene after scene of one upping the last murdered Mayan scene but it works and it’s fun to guess which character will be offed next. It’s almost like being on a ghost walk, the progress is linear, they basically walk there and back again, but the starting and end points of the journey are only a waterfall apart. There is also a pregnant woman trapped down a well plot to keep our hero motivated to stay alive, which isn’t bad but they are the more jarring cuts and they feel like reminders to tell us her and the child are alive, rather than providing any progressive scenes, though this changes by the end as things get desperate. The action is well shot which is a good thing as it’s all about action and the amount of detail is really quite incredible, Mayan spoken throughout is one such touch; just a pity about the dodgy looking animals.
If you rank films by how many people die in painful ways by the end, Apocalptyo is great. Though if you don’t, it is still a great action film with a beautiful and carefully made setting.