Over the last 2-years he has had no less than 3 films drop, ranging from an obscure $4-million straight-to-dvd outing starring Kevin Bacon (The Darkness) to this quiet Screen Australia, Daniel Radcliffe survivalist endeavour (and the largely ignored THE BELKO EXPERIMENT in between) with none of them coming close to matching Wolf Creek's popularity or impact.
In JUNGLE, Radcliffe leads a pack of adventure-seeking travelers in the early 80s who mount an expedition into the heart of the Bolivian jungle with an Austrian geologist, Karl (Thomas Kretcmann) who promises the 3-man crew the glory of lost tribes and a fortune in Incan gold.
Along the way the trio (rounded out by Alex Russell and Joel Jackson) discover their arrogant traveller attitudes and adventure-seeking ways don’t amount to much and Mother Nature can be a complete bitch as the Bolivian jungle kicks their arses up and down the river until they look like roadkill.
It isn’t long before group in-fighting, starvation, river-rapids and jaguar attacks yank the group dynamic hither and thither, testing each weary traveler’s resolve and mental stability as they trek deeper into the bush in order to find humanity before Radcliffe’s Ginsberg is separated and tasked with navigating the dense jungle on his lonesome.
A solid drama should have 3 worlds of conflict; man vs. man, man vs. nature and man vs. self, and Ginsberg’s true story manages to tick all the boxes. That’s probably why his memoir of the events has sold a million copies.
Radcliffe does well as the wide-eyed traveller, forced to face his own failings and hubris while mustering the courage to keep going no matter what gets thrown at him as well as deal with the inadequacies of his bizarre tour leader (made all the more bizarre by a curious post-script just before the final credits) and co-travelers.
As his part-time co-travelers Russell and Jackson are likable and vulnerable in equal measure. Flawed and conflicted but never given much to do except play stereotypes before they vanish from the film leaving the heavy lifting to a solo Radcliffe.
The biggest problem JUNGLE faces isn’t the fire-ants or the quicksand, but McLean himself. The extreme situation Ginsberg finds himself in is never matched by McLean’s grip on the situation. His direction feels a little too loose on what is the most challenging scenario a person can find themselves in. The gaps between the most horrific events (hello parasitic head-worm) and the moments of crushing self reflection are too drawn out to make us feel as panicked as we ought to. Indeed, it’s almost an hour into the film before the drama really starts to unfold. From then it’s a hurtling cascade of beasties and creepy-crawlies and narrowly-missed rescue attempts. At 115-minutes one can’t help but feel JUNGLE would have been better served if McLean trimmed off 15-minutes. As a result the tension is never given a chance to develop, let-alone maintain, and the whole thing lacks the gut-punch it deserves.
With the Queensland bush doubling for Bolivia, cinematographer Stefan Duscio has a great time lensing some of the thickest jungle put on screen since Arnie took on the Predator. Few times in recent memory has a jungle felt this authentic and real, even when it’s just a collection of cliches.
However, in the end, as authentic as it feels, JUNGLE is too limp and loose to leave any real impact. Were it not for Radcliffe’s workman-like turn and the spectacular setting it would have been washed away and left to die somewhere.