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Film Review: Jungle

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Following on from a trend of survival movies in recent years (The Revenant, The Survivalist, The Mountain Between Us) Daniel Radcliffe show his mettle in the new survival thriller, Jungle.

Based on the true story of Yossi Ghinsberg who wrote down his experience in his book of the same name, Radcliffe plays the protagonist who was forced to survive a gruelling three weeks alone in the Bolivian jungle.

The Israeli backpacker ventures into the unknown when he meets a mysterious, charismatic adventurer, Karl (Thomas Kretschmann), who promises Yossi and his two new friends Kevin (Alex Russell) and Marcus (Joel Jackson) a completely unique and new experience to meet natives in the rainforest. However when a trip down the river quickly goes wrong, Yossi finds himself alone in the jungle fighting for survival.

Survival films have always had a gripping effect on audiences. Stories about the triumph of the human spirit have a timeless quality to them which will always resonate with us, and Jungle is no different, but it’s the first chunk of the film that drags and fails to set us up for the enthralling final act which focuses solely on Yossi’s survival.

For a big portion of the film, we’re waiting and waiting for the main drama to ensue. Procrastination with scenes of little substance and some pointless jump scares become tedious and boring. Granted, from the beginning something doesn’t feel right, which is ultimately important; Karl is creepily optimistic about the expedition, and the subsequent risks Yossi and Kevin are willing to take just spells disaster before anything even happens. But it did not need this amount of time to create a sense of foreboding. So why did it take so long to get to the main action?

Jungle’s fatal flaw is the sheer amount of time it takes to set the scene, create a sense of foreboding and advance the action. And when the film finally focuses on Yossi’s story, then it really gets going.

Daniel Radcliffe has proved himself to be an impressively versatile actor since his days in Harry Potter, delivering an authoritative and powerful performance in Imperium, while also proving his versatility even as a farting corpse in more indie hits like Swiss Army Man.

But in Jungle, Radcliffe doesn’t quite hit the mark. While his physical performance is stunning, his dialogue scenes are clumsy and awkward, with an especially questionable Israeli accent which is far more off-putting than it should be.

In the scenes where Yossi, Karl, Kevin and Marcus are all discussing where to go and what to do, it’s just unrealistic, uncomfortable, and bad acting. Not to mention a voice over from Yossi which begins the film and then decides to fizzle out for the rest of the film. In a lot of cases a voice over is just lazy, and this film absolutely did not need a voiceover. Anything that is said in the voiceover is already clearly indicated in the main drama.

However, while most of the initial chapters of the film feel like a let down, momentum really picks up in the latter half. As demonstrated by one man performances like The Revenant and 127 Hours, the best part of a survival film is usually when the protagonist is alone and does not need to speak. A good film does not need tons of dialogue, and this is proved by the final act of Jungle in which Yossi goes it alone and proves his fight and willpower through the gritty realism of his actions. From eating half formed foetus’ from eggs, to sleeping rough and covered in mud, this part of the film really does justice to what Yossi Ghinsberg suffered.

Radcliffe’s emaciated appearance is disturbing, and the scenes in which he is psychologically challenged are frustrating, moving and stirring. This is what Jungle needed more of. And the sheer relief at his ultimate rescue (not a spoiler, seeing as Ghinsberg did manage to write a book on it) is the most emotionally riveting and elicits lasting effects.

An incredible story does trump clumsy narrative and performance choices, but not enough to make this a great film. But director Greg McClean does succeed in delivering the emotional investment and sheer ecstasy that makes a survival story worth telling.

Jungle is out now, distributed through Signature Entertainment.




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