Starring Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns, Sky Ferreira
Directed by Eli Roth
Eli Roth is a divisive figure in the horror genre. While some love his morbid sense of humor and obsession with blood and gore, others finding his juvenile obsession with violence a bit tedious and overdone. Given that, it should be said that I love Cabin Fever and the first two Hostel films, though I fully acknowledge that they are fun, exciting, and at times genuinely funny films that have helped to renew an interest in blood and guts.
After a six-year absence from feature filmmaking, Roth is back with The Green Inferno, an homage to 70s era cannibal exploitation films that follows a group of college-aged peace activists as they attempt to effect change in the jungles of Peru. The home of an isolated indigenous tribe is in the process of being destroyed, and armed with chains, locks, and a hell of a lot of misguided passion, the group members make their way to the jobsite, blow up a couple of bulldozers, and chain themselves to some trees. They succeed (presumably), but their victory celebration is cut short as the plane they’re on crashes, subjecting them to the unseen dangers of the jungle and the very tribe they fought so hard to protect. Kidnapped and taken back to their village, those that survived the plane crash must try to find a way out before they’re killed and cannibalized (hopefully in that order).
The Green Inferno represents a director who is making no attempt to improve his craft beyond simple shock for the sake of shock, which is fine if that’s your wheelhouse. The requisite torture and extreme violence are there, from a student accidentally running into a propeller to eyeballs being ripped out and limbs being hacked off before being roasted for the enjoyment of the tribe. With incredible practical effects by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, severed heads, burnt torsos, and plenty of blood are served up with remarkable detail. Eli Roth knows gore, and he knows how to pace it out to keep it interesting without becoming overbearing, but with each movie it becomes clear that’s all he knows.
Those going in expecting poignant commentary will be disappointed, but that’s to be expected. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any; it’s just that it makes absolutely no sense within the context of the film. He attempts to shine light on the problem of industrialization and basic human meddling in the affairs and lives of others not like us, but the ending of the film completely negates any point he’s trying to make. It’s an attempt at redemption for the character who, despite the horrific ordeal she just endured, apparently never wavered in her desire to save this tribe. Admirable, sure, but the whole thing feels tacked on as an afterthought to give the film more of a point than there should be beyond simple shock value.
This utter contempt for the viewer, however, extends far beyond its bungling of the themes intrinsic to the content, especially within a contemporary light. The first act of the film is a laughable mess, a rushed showcase of poor acting and dialogue that certainly belies Roth’s ability to construct characters that aren’t absolutely wretched. Every line of dialogue is forced, every character an annoying caricature of the worst kind of “save the planet” stereotype you see roaming around your college campus. It’s hard to sympathize with their plight when you want all of them to die. It can be argued that the acting is simply keeping in tune with its inspiration and thus not open to criticism, but this isn’t a 70s movie, nor is it a Star Wars film. Bad acting does not help, especially when the closest The Green Inferno gets to being a true representation of 70s era exploitation is that it’s trying to be.
I’m not too familiar with these films aside from Cannibal Holocaust, but it just seems that beyond its content, it’s nothing more than a “teens in peril” film set in the Peruvian jungle, rather than a true homage. As a director, Eli Roth is perfectly content with remaining on his own little island, surrounded by a river a blood that, at least from his perspective, is impossible to cross.