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JUNGLE (2017) review

October 22, 2017



written by: Justin Monjo
produced by: Todd Fellman, Mike Gabrawy, Gary Hamilton, Mark Lazarus, Dana Lustig & Greg McLean
directed by: Greg McLean
rated: R (for language and some drug use)
runtime: 115 min.
U.S. release date: October 20, 2017 (limited)


I’m still not convinced Daniel Radcliffe can pull off a beard, but his commitment to all the other physical demands in his latest film, “Jungle”, is truly impressive. The film is based on the uncanny account of Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli adventurer who, as a young man back in December 1981, was stranded in an uncharted part of the Bolivian Amazon jungle for three weeks by himself and miraculously survived to write a best-selling book (Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival) about the harrowing tale. Naturally, his story lends itself well to the survival subgenre of “based on a true story” movies, but the question is whether of not this is a movie that is offering anything different or new. I believe it does just that – offering an interesting look at friendship in truly intense situations.

The film opens in La Paz, Bolivia, where Radcliffe’s Yossi Ghinsberg’s narration tells us  who and where he is in life, having left life in Tel Aviv to roam the earth, which is why he landed in South America. It’s here where the backpacking adventurer hits it off with  another fellow adventurer, Marcus (Joel Johnson, “Safe Harbour”) from Switzerland and soon the two connect with one of Marcus’ friends, Kevin (Alex Russell – “Unbroken“), a traveling freelance American photographer, looking for off the grid locales. The three hit it off, although Yossi can tell there is a seemingly closer bond between Marcus and Kevin and they find themselves wandering around, getting to know the village as they decide what they’re next journey will be.




Yossi is approached by a fellow explorer, an Austrian named Karl (Thomas Kretschmann – “King Kong”, “Avengers: Age of Ultron“), who offers him and his friends the trip of a lifetime – a guided tour through uncharted jungle along the Amazon right there in Bolivia at $50 a head. They may even find some gold too! An enthusiastic Yossi is immediately sold, but it takes some persuading to get his skeptical friends on board, especially the hesitant Marcus. (NOTE: Even by 1981’s standards, that’s a pretty cheap rate, so I’m not sure what Karl hopes to gain. Something’s not right here.) After convincing Kevin that he’s bound to get some prime National Geographic shots, Marcus caves and the trio are off via plane to the unknown with Karl in the lead.

It doesn’t take long for it to become clear that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all, none of these guys have ever travelled together before. It’s a challenge enough for their location be a looming unknown, but add to that the big question of who these guys (including Yossi) are and what they’re capable of, and doubt starts to set in. Although the restock in nearby villages, the quartet nevertheless find their supplies dwindling in the jungle and resort to killing and eating a monkey, an act which is unsettling for the young men and shows Karl’s capacity for savagery. Now, their trip becomes something else. Less fun and exciting and more real and dangerous.

When Marcus proves to be the weakest link after getting a nasty foot condition (known as trench foot), preventing him from keeping up with the others, a greater sense of doubt permeates through Yossi and Kevin. Initially, it was clear Yossi was questioning his place with Marcus, seeing the history his new friend has with Kevin, but now both he and Kevin are wondering what should be done about the lagging Marcus. Yossi also may be wondering what it is exactly he brings to the group and as the three of them begin to doubt whether or not Karl is who he says he is or if he knows where’s going, desperation increases as the gravity of their situation becomes real.




Inevitably, the four adventurers decide to split up after a precarious and contentious raft trip down an aggressive river, resulting in Marcus traveling on land with Karl, and Yossi and Kevin taking their chances back on the Beni and Tuichi River, with the goal of reaching the village of Rurrenabaque. When the two are stranded on a rock in the middle of raging waters, Yossi is separated from Kevin, sending him down river and leaving him isolated in the jungle. Left on his own, Yossi spends three weeks struggling to survive with minimal resources. Yes, he survives or else we wouldn’t have this story, but what and how Yossi endures his situation and environment offers an intense and enthralling look at resilience, faith and hope.

“Jungle” is directed by Australian filmmaker Greg McLean, who made his debut back in 2005 with the gruesome backpacking survival thriller, “Wolf Creek” and earlier this year came out with the bloody office survival thriller, “The Belko Experiment” – which proves this is a guy who knows a thing or two about survival films and stories in which people are inadvertently thrust into extreme situations. Once the story follows the perilous jungle journey, McLean doesn’t stray from violent and gruesome scenes – from Karl bludgeoning a hapless monkey to some unsettling close-up shots of Marcus’ nasty-looking feet – but the movie’s best elements are the trust/distrust issues that develop between the men, something I wish Australian screenwriter Josh would’ve explored a bit further here. It’s bad enough to have the elements against you, but when the humans you are supposed to be working with to stay alive, add friction to an already tense situation, then it only adds to a stressful predicament.




The film gets at something personal and reflective when it’s just Radcliffe’s Yossi, the natural elements of the titular jungle and the viewer. He has to scale rocky walls, deal with animal predators and continuously find shelter from the pouring rain. Such isolation, separated from human interaction, helps us develop a better understanding of where Yossi is at internally and gives us a chance to wonder what we’d do in his situation. It’s mostly during this time that Mono and McLean insert Yossi’s flashback memories of his time with his family, particularly how his father viewed his decision to go off and travel, images which intertwine with Yossi’s own self-doubt and desperation he’s experiencing during the stress of dehydration, starvation and exhaustion. There are also some fascination and surreal hallucinations that are understandable considering the character’s delirium and loneliness. It’s in these moments where we also see Yossi willing himself to move on and live, despite seeing where he’s messed up, and in turn forcing himself to literally be the hero of his own story.

With McLean’s background in graphic thrillers, the visuals of “Jungle” are quite effective and memorable, especially a specific scene that finds Yossi addressing a squirming lump that has developed on his forehead. There’s also a terrifying sequence when Yossi and Kevin become stuck between a rock and the rushing current of the river, which gives cinematographer Stefan Duscio an opportunity to get close and drop the audience right in the water along with the characters. Radcliffe’s committed performance is impressive, obviously losing weight for the role in order to appear as emaciated as the Yossi was at his worst. By the time, he’s rescued in the film’s third act, the guy can barely stand and when he does it looks like a gentle wind would knock him over.

What runs throughout “Jungle” is this underlying study of doubt – how we internalize it and how, along with fear, it can taint our relationships. That’s what stands out amid all the harrowing and unsettling moments in the film. That, and how this story serves as cautionary tale to never go on an uncharted jungle excursion with people you’ve just met.



RATING: **1/2










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