Compared to his recent stints as a parping stiff in the sublime Swiss Army Man and FBI agent/ neo-Nazi in Daniel Ragussis’ Imperium, Daniel Radcliffe’s latest venture is a punchy but perplexing schlep through well-charted (in terms of narrative) terrain.
Based on a 1981 set true story and published account: Radcliffe plays Israeli traveller Yossi Ghinsberg who, while trekking through South America, meets disgruntled adventurer/ tour guide Karl (Thomas Kretschmann). Karl offers to escort Yossi through the unexplored Bolivian jungle to meet an indigenous tribe. After keenly agreeing, Yossi talks a Swiss school teacher and cranky photographer into joining him. Soon after they embark, conflicts arise, causing the group to split then travel separate paths all of which subsequently turn into blood-laden battles for survival.
Wolf Creek writer/director Greg Mclean follows directorial belches The Darkness and The Belko Experiment with this wonky tropical horror/ drama that drunkenly juggles genre facets but fails to mend them into a resounding array. Warning signs arise after Yossi drops acid and drifts into a trite flight of fancy dotted with the type of clichéd motifs found in off-cuts from deodorant ads. Its defects cartel to capsize the narrative as the plot crumbles into perplexing, survival thriller bunkum, meaning, when the lads travel, the story doesn’t. Cue a series of rambling set-pieces that unravel mechanically yet sometimes slightly entertain. Jungle is also hindered by hare-brained dialogue, crooked performances, a skew-whiff palette and patchy plot.
Writer/director Mclean seems unable to whip up convincing rapport or emotional arcs to make audiences care about the characters, even when things go unfathomably south in the second act. The action feels frequently thrill-free and, when combined with the blemishes, make Mclean’s feature a steadily degenerating traipse that nurtures garish mawkishness as it gradually malfunctions. Trite and contrived character conflicts cripple performances when combined with stock dialogue. A juicy horror scene involving creatures slithering out of places they shouldn’t be infuses fittingly squirmy suspense. Supporting characters turn up to vanish (literally in one scene when Yossi hallucinates an entire woman) and when the plot unfurls, with rattling cogs, it ultimately flat-lines due to a lack of craft diplomacy, absorbing drama and captivating action.
Jungle is fumbled fun for the first half but just about pithy enough to not seem longer than its running time. A rafting up the Tuichi river sequence entertains when it should enthral while stupefying fantasy/ dream sequences and flashbacks (while malnourished) do nothing but bamboozle. Contrived schmaltz eventually turns Jungle into a gaudy trudge as the plot lurches slovenly like a stoner for a Rolo.
What starts as a mildly diverting yet obstinate slog, that aims for The Revenant levels of high octane/ drama, winds up more like Carry On Up The Jungle on crack, and that’s a compliment. Greg Mclean seems as lost as Yossi, having veered a little too far out of his comfort zone. Even though this, his sixth feature, is a sometimes enjoyable but bungled excursion, it will probably leave wild campers and Bear Grylls massively exasperated and muttering “bloody idiots” in blushing frustration.