By Michael Sicinski
In film and especially on TV, this is a golden moment for wayward youths struggling to survive away from civilization. The Lord of the Flies template offers producers the opportunity to showcase new talent, and provides an excuse for the camera to linger over sweaty young flesh. But unlike, say, Yellowjackets, which strands its young adults in the wilderness for the purposes of a sinister laboratory experiment, La Jauría is considerably more elemental and mundane. Set in Colombia, Andrés Ramirez Pulido’s debut film is about a group of criminal offenders who are removed from their respective prisons and brought together for a combination of slave labour and New Age reformism. The former comes as no surprise, but it’s the latter that speaks more directly to our specific historical moment: La Jauría, much like Alejandro Landes’ Monos (2019), is a film that exemplifies the seemingly universal rightward lurch of our times.
In the first ten minutes, we meet two friends, Eliu (Johjan Estiven Jimenez) and El Mono (Maicol Andres Jimenez), typical street kids drifting around the periphery of the narco gangs. In his best formal decision, Ramirez shows us the moments leading up to the boys’ crime and the immediate aftermath, omitting the violence itself. The circumstances of this act resurface over the course of La Jauría, but most of the film details the activities of the isolated prison camp, where Alvarez (Miguel Viera) leads the boys in breathing exercises and Iron John mantras about manhood and responsibility. Representing the law-and-order flipside to Alvarez is Godoy (Diego Rincoin), a brutal guard who finds the very idea of reform laughable.The ostensible narrative thrust of La Jauría is about whether Alvarez’s therapies are helping to make Eliu a better person, or just papering over deeper psychological problems. What makes Ramirez’s film uniquely troubling is that, with a set of character and plot decisions involving Alvarez, La Jauría strongly suggests that attempts at reaching juvenile offenders are just so much wrongheaded liberal hooey, and that boys this broken really only respond to the thud of the baton. Granted, Eliu’s ultimate fate is something of an open question, although he keeps giving the chin-down/eyes-up “Kubrick look” that recalls Alex DeLarge’s ironic declaration: “I was cured, all right.”