Tragic Jungle (Selva trágica in Spanish) is a drama film that weaves a small Mayan community in Rio Hondo, Mexico, and British Honduras. The film follows a period of the 1900s when the Kingdom of the British empire colonized the region and enslaved the local people. At that time, the land was inhabited by Maya Indians, who cultivated gum and sold them to earn a livelihood.
Directed by Yulene Olaizola, the Spanish film recreates the era while following an ancient myth associated with the Xtabay woman (La Xtabay). The myth is about a demon woman who preys upon men. The film depicts the same while trying to maintain a balance between myth and reality.
‘Tragic Jungle’ Summary
An opening sequence establishes few Mayan Indians living on the other free side of the Rio Hondo River. Their main occupation is to harvest latex from the trees to create gum. On the other side, the narrative opens up with an African virgin woman, Agnes, trying to escape an English man, Cacique, who wants to forcefully marry her. Agnes is helped by another African slave, Florence, and a gunman. Agnes and his companions attempt to cross the river but are attacked by Cacique and his African slaves. Agnes manages to cross the river with Florence. But Florence is shot, and she bleeds to death. Agnes disappears in the dense jungle. Later, the group of male Mayan Indians finds her lying unconscious under a tree. They take her captive while they decide her future.
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘Tragic Jungle’ Ending Explained
With his slaved men, Cacique landed on the Mexican side of the river but was unaware that the free Mayans had found Agnes. The Mayans look upon Agnes as a threat, calling her an Xtabay woman. According to Mayan myth, an Xtabay was a female demon who dwells in the forest and lures men to their deaths. In the film, whoever tried to physically associate himself with Agnes, was found dead the next day. Thus, the story connected Agnes with the myth. Slowly, most of the men dwelling in the jungle, falling prey to their desires, got involved with Agnes, eventually leading to their death. Cacique also attacked the remaining men in the hope of retrieving Agnes, but they failed to trace her. Finally, disappointed, they crossed the river and left.
Agnes came out of the river in the closing shot and carried the ill Mayan into the river, thereby killing him. The only surviving Mayan hinted that the curse of La Xtabay fell upon men who couldn’t resist her incomparable beauty. There was no talisman to protect a man from this curse. Their lust and desire invited the demon, and thus, in a way, they called upon their own doom. The curse wasn’t associated with only Agnes, but all the women looked upon by a male gaze to feed their inappropriate desires. He underlined that most humans believe that Xtabay emerges from the trunk of a ceiba tree, but in truth, she came from the depths of one’s own spiteful heart.
Tragic Jungle is an entrenched philosophical film that thematically explores a Mayan myth. The narrative captures an intriguing subject. However, the playout might test some nerves. If one isn’t patient enough to watch slow drama, then shut it without a second thought. The director Yulene Olaizola underlines a critical subject. I only believe that a similar theme could have been explored more entertainingly, and it wouldn’t cost a dime—just some intriguing writing. Irrespective, the film falls under a rigid festival film category that many might ignore due to its slow narrative.
Tragic Jungle (Selva trágica) is a 2021 drama film directed by Yulene Olaizola.