Monday, August 20, 2018

Welcome to the...

You know what five words I hate seeing in film taglines?

Based. On. A. True. Story.

Here's the thing about such a phrase: it instantly tells you that whatever you're going to see is a) within the realm of physical possibility and b) results in your lead surviving. Now granted, the true story in this case is actually pretty fascinating, but still...if you tell me it's based on reality, I watch the whole film with the preordained disappointment that no aliens or unicorns will appear. What an immediate letdown.

Quick Plot: Having finished his service in the Israeli army, young Yossi decides to travel the world and avoid a life of expected responsibility. While backpacking through South America, he befriends the adventurous Swede Marcus, his American photographer pal Kevin, and a mysterious Austrian named Karl begging to be their Amazon jungle tour guide.

Once they're deep into the wilderness, it doesn't take long for dissension to strike amongst the team. Marcus proves too weak to handle the trek, while the self-proclaimed expert Karl turns out to be a fraud who can't even swim. Since rafting down some wild rapids is the fastest way out before the rainy season strikes, this poses a problem.

Marcus and Karl decide to slowly hike back together. Kevin and Yossi begin their water trail only to immediately be separated by the raging waters. The film (mostly) then follows Yossi as he battles the elements.

And my, what elements they are! Fire ants, gooey quicksand, worms that somehow lodge themselves on the east side of Harry Potter's scar, you name it. While Jungle wouldn't particularly fall into the category of horror movie, it does occasionally tilt its hand to have been directed by Wolf Creek's Greg McLean.

Jungle is based on the real Yossi Ghinsberg's experience in the wild (and also dramatized in a 2005 episode of Discovery's I Shouldn't Be Alive!, a show whose title exclamation point can never not make me think of the glory that is I Don't Want To Be Born). The story itself is genuinely incredible, and it's a wonder it took 40 years to make its way to the big screen.

At the same time, it kind of worked better in hourlong documentary form.

The biggest problem with Jungle is that it simply doesn't trust its source material enough to be its own movie. For a good half hour, we're following Yossi without any influence of the outside world. It's riveting, capturing the real horrors of being truly alone in the heart of the wilderness. 

So why cut away and show Kevin getting help from a nearby village?

McLean, or his script, also toy with Yossi's mental setting, flashing back to his family strife before he left to travel. It's the same issue I had with Danny Boyle's celebrated 127 Hours: the reason these survival stories fascinated the world is because it's truly incredible to imagine what a person can do to make it through such an ordeal. Sure, there's an argument to be made for how your past might affect your current situation, but it's such a trite, standard movie trick that sucks all the true tension out of scrounging for birds' eggs and fighting snakes. 

High Points
Hey, you film a survival movie in a wilderness filled with rapids and greenery and the occasional stock image of a fuzzy spider and you'll have an audience impressed

Low Points
Daniel Radcliffe is the other best part of Jungle, so it's one of those things I just can't acknowledge: the actor clearly gave this his all, putting his body through an intense regime and losing dozens of pounds...for this?

Lessons Learned
Monkey meat is positively delicious

Nothing can change a person's mind with quite as much efficiency as a pack of fire ants

Amazonian snakes are surprisingly easy to handle, even on an empty stomach

Argh. Jungle isn't a bad movie, but it just feels like a story that deserved a better telling. You can find it on Amazon Prime...where you can also find the I Shouldn't Be Alive episode.

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