Jungle review: Daniel Radcliffe fails to shine in survival thriller

Jungle review: Daniel Radcliffe fails to shine in survival thriller

Jungle review: Daniel Radcliffe fails to shine in survival thriller

Updated 9 November 2017, 15:15 AEDT

Watching Daniel Radcliff drag himself across muddy forest floors, lance a giant boil on his head and pull out a parasite is actually pretty fun.

There's a whole constellation of films and TV shows about people pitting their wits against nature.

From prestige Hollywood titles like Life of Pi and The Revenant to small screen series like Man vs. Wild and Survivor, the mix of DIY field surgery, slimy critters and psychological breakdown is entertainment gold.

It's perhaps a surprise, however, that Daniel Radcliffe — an actor who most audiences still think of as a young orphan with a goofy smile named Harry — turns up this week crawling his way through a Bolivian jungle. But maybe that's the point.

Jungle, a film about real-life Israeli backpacker Yossi Ghinsberg, who got lost in the Amazon in the early 1980s, begins with the depiction of naive, idealistic youth.

Yossi is fresh out of the Israeli army when he hits the backpacker trail through South America and bonds over brewskies with fellow thrill-seekers Kevin (Alex Russell) and Marcus (Joel Jackson).

Together, they follow an older Austrian named Karl (Thomas Kretschmann), who has convinced them to go hiking in the jungle with his stories of lost tribes and gold.

Wolf Creek director Greg McLean, as an Australian, has a cinematic DNA imbued with a terror of the wilderness.

Swapping the foreboding expanse of the outback for the claustrophobic maze of the Amazon, his film follows recent Australian thrillers like Kieran Darcy-Smith's Wish You Were Here and Cate Shortland's Berlin Syndrome that explore the overseas tourist trip gone wrong.

Just like Berlin Syndrome's story, about a sexual predator, attempts to express deeper ideas about German wartime history and its traumatic repercussions, Jungle's story is also rich in subtext.

Jungle stutters early, but does improve

Yossi's Jewishness, as a descendant of Holocaust survivors, is a key theme in the film.

With a prayer book given to him by his late grandfather as his goodluck charm, the Holocaust remains a recurring motif throughout the film — and although the idea of Yossi's survivor guilt is never made explicit — his desire to test himself in the rigours of a dangerous expedition seem like a way of measuring himself against the courage of his forebears.

At least, that seems to be the idea.

Unfortunately, Radcliffe doesn't have the breadth to find a middle register between grim, action movie determination and boyish charm, and suggest the required psychological complexity. You could say he's still trying to find a way out of the career jungle post-Harry Potter, and the breakout adult role eludes him even here.

The film's problems are evident from the beginning, as Justin Monjo's script tries to lay out the complex dynamics between the four men.

Who means what to who is difficult to understand as tensions brew. Signals become muddled and the pacing stutters.

An early scene where Yossi spends the night with a beautiful backpacker after a hallucinogenic tea is dispensed with so quickly it's almost comical.

The film's second half is better, when Yossi finds himself alone in a nightmare of escalating disasters and body horror.

In McLean's hands, the spectacle of Radcliff dragging himself across muddy forest floors, lancing a giant boil on his head and pulling out a parasite, or sloshing around in white water is actually pretty fun.

If only the film's impact wasn't hampered by a lack of vision.

Receiving significant support from local funding bodies, Jungle is arguably McLean's most ambitious film so far, and like Berlin Syndrome, it's a notable attempt to take Australian genre filmmaking to a more sophisticated terrain.

It doesn't quite arrive, but like Shortland, McLean is a talent who continues to evolve.