Jungle follows the true story of a trio of adventurous friends who follow a guide into the remote places of the Bolivian jungle. After running into several obstacles, the group fragments until only one man (Daniel Radcliffe) must find his way alone through miles of unfamiliar and unforgiving territory.
This was one film we missed at Telluride Horror Show. It was an unfortunate drop since it was directed by Greg McLean, the director of The Belko Experiment, Wolf Creek and one of my favorite creature features of all time, the heavily underrated Rogue. With a fairly small but respectable sample size, the odds were that Jungle would be a good film. And depending on your approach, you could fall on either side of that fence.
Firstly, it's worth noting that Jungle simply isn't a horror film. It is, at most, a gritty survival adventure film with a darker tone. But it doesn't separate itself from films like Cast Away or even Into the Wild with enough visceral danger to reach The Revenant or even The Grey territory. Into the Wild is an interesting choice to compare, but I bring it up because both it and Jungle had an unusually long build-up to the film's premise. Into the Wild's is significantly longer, but I kept thinking that this "true story" didn't have enough content to warrant its runtime.
McLean has a history of taking a story up a notch and blending the surreal with the corporeal. This was to black-comedic effect in Belko and to disturbing effect in Wolf Creek. In Jungle, it somehow doesn't present that same twinge of separation. There are dream sequences and mental breakdowns, but nothing that develops a chasm between Jungle and other familiar properties.
The story verges on feeling autobiographical in that every scene feels-to-the-point and matter-of-fact. This is how it went down and that's what we filmed. When making films based on true stories, there is a balance between the truth and dramatic effect. This balance teeters depending on what the truth brings to the story, and sometimes a writer/director brings too much truth or too much drama to the finished product. In this case, it's the former. We just get a bit too much of what "actually happened".
The acting is most certainly not the problem. Daniel Radcliffe does a fantastic job as the lead who eventually gets separated from the group. His prowess isn't on-par with Tom Hanks (but whose is?), but there aren't moments in which the screen time was too much for him.
Even the directing isn't necessarily to blame for what could be described as a bland retelling of a somewhat exciting tale. There is palpable tension and you feel that struggle along with our characters at times. But other times, it's an overwhelming feeling of "been there, done that" with films of a similar ilk. And beyond the occasional psychological breakdown, we don't get that feeling of breaking away from the norm.
Kudos to the one horrific scene of the movie. It's incredibly effective. But it is a bit awkward within the confines of the rest of the film. I wanted more. And I wanted more perspective. There's a story left hanging in the jungle that needed to be seen and answered for. That's what movies are for. Give me your take on what you think went down. Go ahead and expand and elaborate on your guesses a little bit. I can't help but feel like there's a bit of wasted opportunity.
Horror Qualifier: 6/10
Horror Quality: 4/10
Film Quality: 6/10