Barely makes it out alive.
Jungle (2017) is an adventure drama based off the book by Yossi Ghinsberg and directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, The Belko Experiment). It stars Daniel Radcliffe as Yossi himself, an Israeli backpacker escaping from a disruptive family life amongst the jungles of South America. But when a safari goes wrong, he’s trapped alone in a hostile environment fighting for his life.
Based on true events and adapted for the screen by Justin Monjo, Jungle made its debut at the Melbourne International Film Festival on its opening night as a film that tried to masquerade Queensland as the Amazon and did a pretty good job of it. Unfortunately however, its choice of setting is the least of its worries as while Jungle may offer all the staples of a true survival story it also comes diseased with a whole flurry of screenplay-based illnesses that sadly drag the film down from a thrilling adventure to the excitement of a backyard stroll through the bush.
Starting with McLean’s direction and its not immediately apparent that anything’s amiss. The film is lush with beautiful scenery and long takes of natural wonder that really capture not only what the experience of exotic backpacking is like, but also the insurmountable force of nature that ultimately becomes the film’s antagonist. The film also utilises a number of dream sequences to tell the story of Yossi’s past and while these are few and far between the bright sepia tones of these flashbacks work as a great contrast to the dense foliage of the Amazon.
Unfortunately however this direction is dragged down by a script that’s as uneven as the landscape itself. Not only does it take its sweet time to get to the real meat of the story, the plot is weighed down by everything from inconsistent characterisation to cliche-ridden dialogue with a light smacking of unresolved plot-lines to really knock the story down into the muck. Its a damn shame because the story here itself is quite exceptional but sadly writer Monjo has managed to capture little more than the essence of the source material.
Thank the jungle for Daniel Radcliffe then, who manages to save the movie from overwhelming mediocrity with his light-hearted likeability and easy-to-root-for depiction of Yossi. The character exudes a contrast of boisterous energy and quiet determination, and Radcliffe has little trouble carrying the entire movie when needed. His co-stars however don’t fare quite so well. While not necessarily bad performances the rest of the group (made up of Thomas Kretschmann, Alex Russell and Joel Jackson) struggle to reach beyond their trappings in the script, mellowing in inconsistent characterisation and trite dialogue that sadly makes them rather forgettable.
Jungle is amusingly similar to its namesake – lush, detailed and inviting, but also very chaotic and uneven once inside it. A compelling story, nice cinematography and a strong lead performance act as trees reaching above the burning stumps of poor writing and inconsistent characters and as much as they climb to the sky to escape the flames there’s little they can do to avoid getting burnt. As survival stories go, Jungle just makes it out alive – but only barely.
General Audiences: Meh
Film Buffs: Meh