Jungle is a 2017 biographical adventure film about a group of friends who join a guide for a trek into the Bolivian jungle, searching for an Indian village.
Lost in the (insert terrifying natural wonder) films are by design, stories meant to inspire, to revel in the human spirit. These true-life tales of survival often feature not only an incredible journey out of the woods per se, but typically that of personal redemption, where one emerges better than when they began. Now comes Greg McLean‘s Jungle, a harrowing true life story that strives for epic wonder but can’t quite find its own way, despite a story much in need of telling.
In 1981, adventure-seeker Yossi Ghinsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) is an Israeli traveling in Bolivia. Young and curious, he experiments with drugs and pretty girls, planning on only staying for a year but thinking he’ll never go home. Soon enough, he befriends others like him, Marcus (Joel Jackson), a Swiss schoolteacher on vacation, and Kevin (Alex Russell), a photographer. They meet mysterious loner Karl (Thomas Kretschmann), who promises them high adventure in remote hard-to-reach locations where there might be gold. They head into the Amazon forests, full of high spirits and expectations, but things quickly fall apart and when Yossi gests separated as the group divides, he becomes lost not only in the hollows of the jungle but in his own mind.
Jungle spends a good deal of the film setting up Yossi’s ordeal, with the first hour devoted to establishing personalities and conflicts, following these men through a series of trope-ish hiking and camping mishaps and comedic moments, all with a strumming guitar that bubbles with ups and downs. Marcus is not an outdoorsman and his feet become blistered, slowing the group, while Karl reveals a weakness that eventually splits the men. The second half then settles on Yossi after an accident leaves him on his own, and the movie shifts into a personal nightmare.
McLean, perhaps best known for horror films including Wolf Creek and The Darkness, can’t resist a few horror-ish squirm-inducing moments, and surely, they are earned in the scheme of things, even if they serve their purpose and move on. Unfortunately, the movie can’t sustain any real sense of despair or impactfulness as it falls prey to gimmicks and manipulations, with awkward hallucinatory flashbacks and such that work to give Yossi’s odyssey weight but does nothing but strip away greater opportunities for Radcliffe to simply take control of the character and the horrific situation. It ticks off a number of expected encounters and relies far too much on its sweeping orchestral score, charging in with aggressiveness once Yossi is lost, constantly drawing attention away from the real terror of being lost in such a formidable and dangerous place. This leaves Radcliffe only a pawn in the game, ending up a tool in which to play out set pieces rather than the center of a deeply humanizing story.
Radcliffe is actually very good, and if the film had more confidence in his struggle alone, rather than layering it with such grand attempts as symbolism and melodrama, this could have been a far more powerful experience. He undergoes a dramatic transformation and convinces throughout, and admittedly, McLean is able to wrap it up with some punch, despite the contrivances. It’s Radcliffe’s terrific work, the truth of Yossi’s remarkable survival, and the revelation of the fate of them all that ultimately lifts this up above where it very nearly settles. A worthy story, Jungle manages to keep us interested, but it lacks the weight that could have made it one not to be forgotten.
Movie description: Jungle is a 2017 biographical adventure film about a group of friends who join a guide for a trek into the Bolivian jungle, searching for an Indian village.
Director(s): Greg McLean
Actor(s): Daniel Radcliffe, Thomas Kretschmann, Alex Russell