Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Thomas Kretschmann, Joel Jackson, Alex Russell
Directed by Greg McLean
Let me clear the air right away and tell you that Jungle is not a horror film. It’s simply not. However, it’s an absolutely brilliant adventure movie that focuses on a man vs. nature story, which is something many of us horror fans have seen before. Additionally, it’s gorier than many horror films, something director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, The Belko Experiment) has never had an issue showing. Since it played at this year’s Telluride Horror Show, I’m going to use our platform to review the movie for the plain and simple fact that I absolutely loved it.
Based on the true story of Yossi Ghinsberg, Jungle follows a young Israeli man (Radcliffe) who, with his two friends, joins a guide to hike through the Amazon rainforest. When the group needs to split, Yossi and his friend Kevin (Russell) travel by raft on the river only to crash in heavy rapids, causing the two to become separated. Alone in the jungle with barely any supplies, Yossi must find his way to civilization or die in the forest, never to be found.
McLean’s Jungle is nothing short of a marvel. According to him, the story has been attempting a film adaptation since it was published, at one point in the early 90’s even having Jean Claude Van Damme attached to play Ghinsberg. Even more incredible is the fact that Ghinsberg, who was an executive producer on the film, ensured that everything seen on screen actually happened to him. Nothing that happens in the film is an exaggeration, according to McLean’s Q&A at THS.
Gorgeously shot in South America, the range of visuals is astonishing. Beautiful landscapes of Amazon treetops with clouds hovering like a blanket. Flocks of birds fly over rivers. The score by Johnny Klimek (“Sense8”, One Hour Photo, Wolf Creek) perfectly captures the tone of the film, at some point even reminding me of the more emotional moments of Gustavo Santaolalla’s The Last of Us.
When it comes to portraying Ghinsberg, Radcliffe’s performance is astonishing. His Israeli accent is surprisingly very good and the anguish and desperation he conveys is matched by the sheer physical toll he placed upon himself to accurately reflect the harm three weeks in the jungle will take on a person. Basically carrying a movie on your own is no small feat, but Radcliffe has done it.
During the story, Ghinsberg begins to live in puerile fantasies as well as recollect times with his family in order to give himself the strength to move on. The former are charming in how simple they are, such as ordering trays of food at McDonald’s or winning the jackpot at a casino. The latter, however, are far more meaningful and bear greater weight. Coming from a Jewish family, Ghinsberg recalls the disappointment of his father when told that he would be taking a year off for travels (something that is now a norm for many Israelis), the time when his uncle gave him a book of prayers to keep him safe, and times with his rabbi.
The reason these scenes are so important is that they establish a core theme that runs throughout the film: faith. Not only in a higher power, although that comes to play in its own ways, but in oneself and each other. Yossi’s friend Kevin refuses to give up searching for him, convinced that his friend is still alive against all odds. Yossi himself powers through some truly harrowing times because his faith in his own abilities drives him forward.
My only gripe with the film is that the pacing gets a little iffy towards the 3rd act. The constant up and down of Yossi walking through the jungle only to have some sort of event occur then more walking then another event, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera… begins to take its toll on the viewer. I recognize that this may be McLean’s way of making the viewer feel, in some small way, what Yossi went through but it ends up being more of a “check the watch” situation instead of an “I’m exhausted from all the emotion”. That being said, every time I had those thoughts, McLean brought forth an event that pulled me right back into the film.
Some minor pacing issues aside, Jungle is, without a doubt, the most thrilling, exhilarating, and inspiring film I’ve seen this year. Daniel Radcliffe’s performance is magnificent and Greg McLean expertly weaves through tension, beauty, despair, and joy.