Yossi Ghinsberg yearned for more than the comfy, cushy life he was born into and being young and adventurous, Yossi travels abroad to backpack in Bolivia to pursue self-discovery and beauty in places far less travelled despite his father’s wishes. He quickly befriends fellow backpackers Marcus and Kevin and together, they lay tracks through the eclectic terrain of the breathtaking Bolivian landscape, but wasn’t until an Austrian geologist named Karl approached Yossi about a promise of unearthing gold and experiencing hidden tribes deep inside the lush jungle. After some convincing, the three friends venture into the jungle with only Karl to guide them and, at first glance, the wilderness is an escape from the noise and pollution of human corrupted inhabitations, but a drastic realization quickly washes over them when they’re force to separate and that the jungle is a cauldron of constant survival. Along with captivating beauty, fire ants, poisonous snakes, symbiotic organisms, jaguars, and torrential rains tip the iceberg of everything that embodies the sequestered jungle and Yossi must endure the trials and tribulations alone in order to make it out alive.
Based off the book of true events from Yossi Ghinsberg comes the motion picture retelling of Ghinsberg harrowing tale of survival in “Jungle.” The 2017 biographical adventure-thriller is penned by Justin Monjo (teleplay writer for TV hits like the sci-fi odyssey “Farscape”) and directed by “Rogue” and “Wolf Creek” director Greg McLean. “Jungle” showcases the night and day environment of one of the world’s most beautiful, yet deadliest locations, cascaded with awesome uncharted landscapes with an augmentation of great mortality once man is introduced. However, the thing with the jungle is that no matter what man’s objectives may be with the rainforest, whether it’s to destroy it or to embrace it as were Yossi’s intentions, nature treats all with the same merciless brutal as it’s kill or be killed. Yossi is in the midst of a man versus nature thematic element where Darwin’s survival of the fittest lays all well true and from his book, Yossi Ghinsberg went through a nearly three weeks of severe isolation, stomach-devouring starvation, and vigilant hyperawareness against the local wildlife. Yet, somehow, he survived.
To play such as downtrodden character needed an actor committed wholeheartedly to the story and, luckily for McLean and the rest of the crew, Daniel Radcliffe encompassed Yossi Ghinsberg and his plight with passion and dedication. So much dedication that the Harry Potter famed actor lost about 14 to 15 pounds in order to mimic starvation and really put his body close to the hazards Yossi had faced. “Jungle” has certainly solidified his range as an actor inside the genre of not only fantasy films, but also thrillers as well. From “Horns” to “Imperium,” the English-born, 5’5”, 28-year-old actor has placed a major footprint in the industry that stretched from low-budget to Hollywood stardom and doesn’t seek to stop in the near future. Radcliffe is joined by a pair of Australian actors in Alex Russell (“Chronicle” and “Bait”) as American photographer Kevin Gale and Joel Jackson as Swiss teacher Marcus Stamm on sabbatical. A standout performance, one that really rivals Radcliffe in cliffhanging suspense with cryptic intentions, is that of Thomas Kretschmann (“Blade II”) playing the Austrian geologist Karl Ruprecther. Fantastic chemistry between all four men with spot-on performances, especially not portraying their native heritage.
While Greg McLeans has no fear in getting gritty where gritty needs to be get, “Jungle” has a tame nature about it for a director well-known for Outback cruelty. McLean doesn’t exact the right amount of perilous attitude that was unfortunately bestow upon Yossi. Much of Yossi Ghinsberg’s book was not translated to screen such as his rectum being impaled by a large stick when he falls down a slope. The hard stop editing and pivot bounces the viewer around being out of control on a trampoline. When we meet Yossi for the first time and he encounters Marcus Stamm, a cascading event of one jointly pursuit with another that string along and attach Kevin Gale to a web of awkwardly editing scenes of traveling through Bolivia in what felt like a slapdash montage with the sole purpose of setting up the trio’s friendship in an unsympathetic way. Another issue with the editing was that the film had to keep reminding the viewers about previous events, such as when Yossi was bitten by a fire ant, and those scenes ended up being a redundant time filler that points audiences to being naive and inattentive to cherry pick previous actions.
Umbrella Entertainment releases “Jungle” on a rated mature, region B Blu-ray with crystal clear full high definition, 1080p presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Image quality bares no marks of compression issues nor any flagrant fouls in the coloring, whether natural or generated. Aliasing is also a non-issue. The 5.1 DTS-HD English soundtrack has moments of low fidelity at the beginning of the film where making out the dialogue can be challenge, but the jungle ambiance and the Johnny Klimek (“Land of the Dead”) score bring alive the eclectic atmospherics of the wild, wildlife. Bonus features include a featurette that extends up Danial Radcliffe becoming Yossi Ghinsberg, the making of the Yossi Ghinsberg story, cast and crew interviews, and the theatrical trailer. “Jungle’s” adventurous first half sets up the catalytic downfall into desperation and despair of a man versus nature thriller in the latter half, splitting Daniel Radcliffe into two auspicious roles of enchanting self-discovery and a fight for survival. The movie most certainly encourages one to read the book of Yossi Ghisbergs edge of death misadventure.
Vividly haunted by the nightmares of her childhood, Grace Walker struggles with recouping from the brutal suicidal death of her father that has plagued her into adulthood. Her boyfriend Jim plans a romantic getaway for just the two them in the remote region of the Smokey Mountains. After a horrific accident fatally strikes down Jim, Grace is alone and lost in the thicket without her coping medication and without a basic knowledge of survival skills. Battling with starvation, unequipped with survival supplies, and besieged with a mental breakdown, Grace combats against her inner and outer demons in order to stay alive.
Eight years have passed since writer-director Jeremy Benson’s last film, the carnal exploitive “Live Animals,” and the filmmaker comes back strong with the upcoming deeply psychological horror “Girl in Woods.” While the title seems unoriginally simple, the character Grace is anything but simple; however, primitive is a more suitable description of both title and character in the end. Benson sets up the character by writing Grace as a woodsy no-nothing on the brink of insanity. As Grace hikes behind Jim, whose carrying a rifle, she’s complaining about the possible dangers of bears and snakes while attempting to use her pink incased cellphone in a kill signal area to gossip about Jim’s engagement proposal the night before. Immediately, Benson places an unstable, and the creature of comfort, Grace into panic and peril, the starting line of her laundry list of troubles. From then on, the director relentlessly pounds Grace with hallucinations set within the Tennessee backwoods, torturing her from the mind with mental deterioration stemmed by hunger and onset psychosis to her body with physical pain from a deep gash wound in her hand.
And who is this actress to which Benson mercilessly puts through the meat grinder? Veteran actress Juliet Reeves (“Automaton Transfusion”) fills Grace’s disturbed shoes with a formidable solo performance for much of the duration. The then 36 year old actress was pregnant with her second child during various filming shoots. The father of the child is with none other than her co-star, now husband, Jeremy London (“Alien Opponent”) who portrays Jim. Reeves is able to maintain a convincing lunatic lost in the woods despite the non-liner storyline where dream sequences and, supposedly, flashbacks intercut to build upon Grace’s tragic and unfortunate background. Reeves commits herself to the stages of psychosis, slowly transforming from a manageable, calm medicated state to severely severing all ties from external reality. Even when performing with her angel and devil conscious in the form of herself, Reeves doesn’t flinch, fashioning a frightening internal dynamic that’s damn realistic.
“Girl in Woods” ultimately becomes a collaboration between the subgenres of psychological horror and man versus nature. Benson’s story explores the possibilities of what might happen if a mental case like Grace is put into a dire predicament and the non-linear narrative simultaneously attempts to display how Grace is destined to be molded. Interestingly enough as a tidbit of analytical comparisons, “Girl in Woods” marginally parallels with a few popular scenes from the 1987 John McTiernan film “Predator.” When Mac, played by Bill Duke, chases down the extraterrestrial game hunter, he notes to Carl Weather’s Dillion, whispering, “I see you” toward the cloaked alien, which feels similar to when Grace spots the forest “demon” and chases after it, yelling, “I saw you” over and over. Other scenes sport the same similar inkling from Grace whittling makeshift weapons to going full blown guerilla attack commando on the “demon,” who oddly enough also makes similar vocal gutturals like the Predator.
As far as production value is concerned, “Girl in Woods” has an ambitious approach with a infinitely engulfing forest that lurks like an antagonistic villain and an in-your-face motif of self-inflicted suicides that’s extremely graphic and hard to absorb with the brain-splattering, wrist-slashing overdose potency. The CGI is kept at a minimum, but have one hell of a nasty bite that spurs the heart to a sudden pounding. The practical effects reign supreme over CGI and within the confines of a warped mind, the possibilities are endless and Benson exploits the potentials. Overall, fine performances by the rest of the cast: Jeremy London, John Still (“Live Animals”), Lee Perkins (Slime City Massacre), and the stunning Charisma Carpenter (“Angel” television series) as Grace’s mother.
Produced by GIW in association with Yield Entertainment and distributed by Candy Factory Films, “Girl in Woods” is an upcoming film you don’t want to skip over. Jeremy Benson has the talented eye of capture beauty within the horror and has the talented pen to wield craziness on paper. I’m not at liberty to critique the audio and video quality as I was provided an online screener, but “Girl in Woods” is being released on iTunes, VOD, DirectTV, Cable, Dish, Amazon Instant, Google Play, and Vudu so there are plenty of formats to choose from on June 3rd.