Not for the faint of heart, this is a violent film about survival.
In a pre-Columbian Central American jungle, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) lives peacefully with his tribe until a surprise attack by a gang of brutal Mayan warriors destroy his village. They kill his father and most of his friends, but managing to survive, Jaguar Paw is able to save his young pregnant wife and his small son by using a long strong vine and lowering them into a pit. Soon after, one of the assailants looks his way and notices the suspicious movements around the hole. Not able to see anything, the man cuts the vine and keeps on attacking the few survivors who still fight for their lives. After the fight is over, Jaguar and some of his friends are captured and taken away to the Mayan city where their fate is sealed: they’ll be offered in human sacrifice to the god Kukalkamon. Once there, the scene is graphic and bloody, not for everyone.
It’s the way the hero escapes the altar of sacrifice what makes of this film one of the most unexpected and inventive but believable stories ever filmed. With the warriors in pursuit, Jaguar Paw runs for his life but also to save his family back in his village. Now in the jungle, remembering his father’s words, he defy his pursuers and becomes the hunter and they, the prey.
As the chase begins, so does the adrenaline rush that you will feel for the duration of this intense adventure directed by Mel Gibson in 2006. Besides the action, history lovers will appreciate the effort taken by the set designers and costume artists to recreate as closely as possible the rich and detailed elements of Mayan culture. Body ornaments, drawings, weapons, and even the language used throughout the entire film and spoken by an all-native group of mostly unknown but talented actors are as important to the story as the chase itself. In the background, we catch a glimpse of how this civilization’s magnificent pyramids and the beauty of the vast green rain forest might have looked then.
This is one of those films that transports the audience to a time and epoch rarely depicted on the big screen, in this case the Mayan culture with its cruelty and beliefs. Maybe because of its controversial director, the critics have been cold and almost indifferent to Apocalypto. Even today, it’s almost impossible to find a copy or watch it in the U.S. It’s mostly unavailable for “some” reason. If anybody knows, please share.
See also directed by Mel Gibson: The Man Without A Face (1993), Braveheart (1995)