Based on the bestselling memoir of Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg, the new movie Jungle (review) lays out the story of four travelers who set off into the heart of the rain forest in 1982. Those were the dark days before cell phones and GPS devices. As you might guess, what begins as a dream voyage deteriorates into a living nightmare. Directed by Greg McLean – who’s made a career of terrorized tourist tales, beginning with Wolf Creek more than a decade ago – the story unfolds in such a way that’s sure to please the director’s devout fans.
We got the chance to talk to McLean about his deviation from the genre standard while still making a scary movie, and what he hopes to achieve in his future work.
Jungle comes out tomorrow, October 20th.
Dread Central: Why take on a true-life adventure that’s not a traditional horror story?
Greg McLean: I was looking to do something that expanded me as a filmmaker by doing something out of the horror genre. I read the story and fell in love with the characters and fell in love with how amazing this true story was. Ultimately, it’s just very moving. I felt myself kind of crying at the end of it, and I just thought it was just full of really interesting insights. It’s a powerful story and I think that it was great to do something where the character was really trying to save a life as opposed to taking one for a change. So it was about finding an inspirational story to tell.
DC: Casting is key in a movie like this where, for the most part, you are following a single character. What was it about Daniel Radcliffe that made you think he should play Yossi?
GM: I didn’t know him before casting the film. I was aware of his previous work. I’m a massive Harry Potter fan – and loved him in other films, and was aware of his potential. I’d been tracking his career with interest because he’d been doing these really amazing, interesting character roles. And when we spoke we both kind of connected on the level that it would take to pull this story off accurately. And he was up for the challenge. He was very keen to embrace the challenge of the role as an actor. He goes go through so many different emotional transformations and physical transformations in the film. I think he was really looking for that kind of challenge, I was as well, as the director. So we were very much on the same page with how to make the film, how to approach it. And he bought everything, he bought 200% to the table. I think it’s an amazing performance. I feel that he has been out seeking challenging roles that test him as an actor and he couldn’t have found a more difficult one with Jungle. He’s pulled it off with amazing skill and it’s just an amazing performance.
DC: You’re no stranger to shooting in harsh outdoors locations, but the jungle must be different from the outback.
GM: It was. Shooting that location was tough. It’s a challenge. Being a movie director you basically like to think you’re in control of what’s going on but when you’re shooting outdoors, the real boss of everything is the elements. If nature decides to drop 20 centimetres of rain on you, it’s going to happen. You’ve got to be comfortable and you’ve got to be able to roll with it. So you basically have to be this combination of super prepared but at the same time – you’re white water rafting down a river in Columbia and things happen, things change. So it’s a physical challenge, which I loved. I really loved being outdoors. I love being in nature. But I think one of the biggest challenges was the white-water rafting sequences because that river that you see is as dangerous and as deadly as it looks on the screen and we spent a couple of weeks running around those slippery rocks trying to shoot those sequences. I was genuinely concerned that at some time somebody would die. I was certainly on the edge of that whole sequence. How close Daniel was getting to the river… We had safety harnesses and safety guys and that kind of stuff, but it’s still a very dangerous environment to work around and to be in. I think that comes across in the movie as well. I feel like we genuinely captured the power of that water and the danger of that location and some of the scale of the environment.
DC: Explorers never fail to fascinate the public. Even modern-day ones like Yossi. And the jungle is just scary to us. Why do you think that is?
GM: I think there’s certainly a romantic notion of adventure associated with the jungle. Certainly, it’s a big part of Yossi’s character at the time. When he was twenty years old at the time and setting off to travel the world he was drawn to that part of the world because he really had a very romantic idea of adventure. He really genuinely wanted to find a lost city and to be able to find hidden treasure and to find lost tribes. He had a whole fantasy worked out about what he really wanted, the kind of adventure he was after. And he kind of got that adventure, but not the adventure he thought he was going to have. And this is something very well described in the book, probably in a bit more detail than in the book. Yossi had a dream and he went after his dream and then it became a nightmare. But subsequently he learnt a lot and it changed his life, this experience, in different, profound ways. And so it’s interesting. I think the jungle does have that, the appeal of basically testing oneself and as well as chasing dreams.
DC: I’m surprised his story hasn’t been made into a film before.
GM: Yossi’s adventure happened in 1991. He wrote the book I think, a year after that, and then a year or so after that he had the book published. Sometime after he began to trying to get the film made and people were approaching him to make the film. So the adventure of trying to make the film has been a twenty year adventure. There had been a number of different set ups and dry runs and dead ends and that kind of stuff. And then at a certain point, even about ten years ago, a producer called Dana Lustig, who’s one of our key producers on the movie, she went to Yossi and said ‘I will make your movie.’ And he’d been very burnt by the experience of trying to get the film made and his attitude was… he was very cynical about it. And she promised she’d get the film made and so she was kind of keeping the torch alive for so many years. And eventually it went through another iteration and another iteration and then finally she went to a production company that I had worked with before and they suggested me for director. They sent me the script and I read it and thought it was just incredible. And from the moment I read it we were just going for that point to just make the film and let’s go do it. And coincidentally just before this movie I shot The Belko Experiment in Columbia and with this film I went back to Columbia. So I shot two films back to back in Columbia out of Bogata.
DC: Do you want to make more adventure films, or will you be returning to horror next?
GM: I’m an action, science fiction fan, I love sci-fi, I love super heroes. I’d love to do a super hero movie, I’d love to do world building and visual effects. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter the scale or the story, it’s about how powerful the story, that’s all I’m really after. At the same time I’m certainly interested in examining different story telling, different modes of film making and style and that kind of stuff. So we’ll see. I’m reading things at the moment looking for my next movie and trying to find the next challenge.
The story follows the real-life experiences of Israeli backpacker Yossi Ghinsberg, played by Daniel Radcliffe. Jungle‘s cast also includes Thomas Kretschmann, Alex Russell, Joel Jackson, and Yasmin Kassim.
Related Story: Exclusive: Greg McLean Talks the Jungle
The thriller is based on the memoir of the same name by Yossi Ghinsberg and follows the story of three young men who enter the Amazonian jungle with a mysterious guide.
McLean produced the project along with Dana Lustig, Gary Hamilton, Mike Gabrawy, and Todd Fellman. Arclight Films is handling worldwide sales and is packaging the film.
An enthusiastic young adventurer follows his dreams into the Amazon jungle with two friends and a guide with a mysterious past. Their journey quickly turns into a terrifying ordeal as the darkest elements of human nature and the deadliest threats of the wilderness lead to an all-out fight for survival.
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