It’s no secret real-life can be fucking terrifying. In fact, we’ve spoken at length in this column before about IRL tales becoming an excellent source for some of the most impactful horror movies of the past century. Yet life – and our quest to survive it – can be just as freaky, which audiences will soon discover in Jungle (released nationwide yesterday). Not to be confused with The Jungle Book, the animated version from 1967, or The Jungle Book, Jon Favreau’s splashy reboot from 2016, or even bonkers Bollywood drama Jungle from 2000, oh, and Aussie filmmaker Andrew Traucki’s movie about a big cat called, yup, Jungle from 2013. There are a lot of movies close to the title, so be conscious of potential confusion is what we’re saying. This latest Jungle, however, sees Daniel Radcliffe in full-on Cast Away mode in the Amazon as he fights for survival.
Based on a true story, as many survivalist horror films are, the experiences documented in the film actually happened to Yossi Ghinsberg. Yes, that Yossi Ghinsberg: entrepreneur, motivational speaker, humanitarian, adventurer, and Jack of many trades. One of those trades, it turns out, is surviving for over three weeks in the unforgiving wilds of the Amazon jungle. In his early 20s, it was an ordeal Ghinsberg lived through after he became separated from his travelling party in the rain forest. The experience was documented in his 1996 novel, Back From Tuichi: The Harrowing Life and Death Story Of Survival In The Amazon Rainforest. Not a book recommended for the squeamish, it details everything from a foot rotting away from fungi almost to the point of deterioration and nearly being eaten alive (By what? You’ll have to see the movie). He survived, being discovered on the edge of death by a search party that was spearheaded by one of the four friends who had entered the jungle with him.
Survival movies in and of themselves usually veer into the territory of horror, simply because there are elements of extreme violence, gore and death usually involved. This works rather perfectly in the case of Jungle, as the direction is handled by an experienced horror vet in Greg McLean (releasing his second film in 2017, it should be noted, because that is a man who works like he’s running outta time). McLean broke out with Wolf Creek, a movie that became one of those low-budget-to-Hollywood success stories many genre filmmakers dream about. One of the most powerful elements of not only the first film, but the sequel and subsequent series was McLean’s ability to make the environment one of the central characters. The Australian Outback became as much of a villain as John Jarratt’s Mick Taylor did, communicating a different but no less brutal kind of menace. He puts that same skill to use in Jungle, where Daniel Radcliffe plays Yossi in a case of man-versus -nature. It’s testament to Radcliffe’s skills as a Motherfucking Thespian (technical term) that for huge chunks of the movie it’s just him acting against the environment, yet it’s still thrilling. It’s something that requires a unique skillset: think James Franco in 127 Hours and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. While the former grounded his performance in an earthy realness, the latter leaned heavily on his sheer desperation to pursue that golden Oscar like he usually would a 19-year-old supermodel.
Fictional survival movies have more room to play, especially if they’re dystopian in some regard. I Am Legend, The Descent, The Girl With All The Gifts and 28 Days Later are all straight-up survival movies and do fall largely into the genre of horror thanks to the creatures featured in them. Then there are two stellar examples in The Road and The Grey: again both fictional survival movies and horror movies. They don’t feature ‘monsters’ per se, but they do examine things that we consider to be monstrous. For survival movies that are based on real-life incidents, the horror element is usually toned down somewhat. Think Alive from 1993, based on the story of a rugby team who survives a plane crash and avalanche in the mountains, only then to have to eat the flesh of their dead teammates in order to stay alive. You couldn’t get bleaker than that, but the events are cast in a more inspirational and even motivational light – especially by the film’s conclusion – with the poster looking more like a Mighty Ducks spin-off than horrifying ordeal. The Way Back from 2010 – also based on a true story – is much the same; despite fatalities and genuine horror, it rests heavily on the ‘hope’ element. In Jungle, however, they lean in to it: largely because they have such an excellent blueprint in Ghinsberg’s novel. McLean knows how to scare people. He has built a career on it. And he understands there are few things scarier than loneliness: what could be scarier than fighting to survive in a place completely devoid of other human beings?
Maria Lewis is a journalist and author previously seen on SBS Viceland’s The Feed. She’s the presenter and producer of the Eff Yeah Film & Feminism podcast. Her debut novel Who’s Afraid? was released in 2016 with the sequel – Who’s Afraid Too? – out now. Her new book It Came From The Deep is available now. You can find her on Twitter @MovieMazz