To the bloody end
There came a point during Mel Gibson’s insane gore-fest Apocalypto when I just started laughing at the thing. Gibson most assuredly has made an exciting, good-looking movie here, but boy does he go nuts with the violence. It’s so out of hand that I would have to classify this one as a horror film, as violent and gratuitously disgusting as your average Friday the 13th movie. With this, and his The Passion of the Christ, Gibson seems to be making an attempt at starting his own subgenre, Historical Horror Bloody Blowouts.
OK, I know what some of you are thinking. History has shown man to be an incredibly violent creature, and Mad Mel is just using the medium to show us this. The movie, a hypothetical look at the Mayan civilization and some of the reasons for its downfall, certainly deals with a violent faction of humanity. History shows us that these dudes would pull the still-beating hearts out of sacrificial victims, show it to them while they died a “God, why hast thou forsaken me?” death and then cut off their heads for good measure.
Any film trying to realistically show us this practice should be violent by nature, so I’ll go ahead and give Gibson a pass for the totally disgusting sacrifice scene. I just think a film has gone berserk when it shows a guy chowing down on boar balls, another man slowly dying with a distinct arterial spray coming out of his head trauma and yet another having his throat slit while his kid watches.
On top of all that, he includes a scene of a panther ripping some poor bastard’s face off. Yes, a panther or two throughout the history of man has probably feasted on human face, but Gibson puts the camera right in there for the festivities. We actually see the jaw being mangled, with the face being masticated into a bloody pulp. That stuff is what’s usually reserved for George Romero zombie films. (I don’t recall any of those with a panther actually in them, but if there was one, Romero would’ve done it this way). Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good horror flick, and Apocalypto is a good chase movie to boot. A young hunter named Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood, in an amazing debut) is kidnapped by Mayan warriors and soon learns that his fate is to be one of those unlucky fellows looking at his still beating heart. When the opportunity presents itself, he runs like the wind and beats a retreat back to his child and pregnant wife. He’s pursued by some rather monstrous warriors, one of whom pledges to peel off Jaguar Paw’s skin while his victim watches. Alas, Gibson never gives us that scene. The chase uses elements of The Fugitive, Predator and John Huston’s jungle epic A Panther Ate My Face Off! (OK, I made the last one up).
So, did I enjoy this bombastic monstrosity? Yeah, I sort of did. Do I think Mel Gibson is totally out of his mind? You bet I do, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a good movie. Do I think he goes a tad overboard with this film? Absolutely, and that’s one of the primary reasons why I got a kick out of it. I don’t think I appreciated this film in the way the filmmaker intended. To me, it’s The Evil Dead set in a rainforest, not an important, historical epic.
For those of you out there who proclaim that this film depicts Gibson’s racism toward the ancient Mayan civilization by depicting all of them as bloodthirsty monsters, one only need look at a key moment in the movie. As a victim is being sacrificed, we get a distinct shot of a Mayan woman in a crowd of partying thousands, shaking her head in disgust as if to say, “This human sacrifice stuff is total bullshit!” See? Gibson doesn’t think they were all nuts. He does, however, think many of them rivaled Texas Chainsaw‘s Leatherface when it came to blood lust.