'The Green Inferno'
Here’s something you don’t see every day, a contemporary cannibal horror flick. There was a time when these things were cranked out regularly by the renegade Italian horror industry and represented the depths of their sleaziness. When they went away, most folks assumed they’d never return. Yet thanks to Eli Roth (‘Hostel’, ‘Cabin Fever’), cannibal movies are back and this one wisely revives all the best aspects of the genre, even if that’ll do little to deter those predisposed to hate ‘The Green Inferno’ before they even watch it.
It’s been a full eight years since Eli Roth directed a film and love him or love him, the guy has been missed. An unapologetic genre nerd, Roth has a knack for making clever horror yarns with more than enough grisly stuff for the Fangoria crowd. However, he’s often mocked because he’s such a visible target and unafraid to indulge in excess. Still, for those who actually engage with Roth’s dirty dealings rather than dismiss them because he’s so ubiquitous, the director has a way with dealing out the hard stuff and a morbid wit beneath his shocks.
Roth’s latest film ‘The Green Inferno’ has sat on a shelf for two years. Perhaps that’s inevitable since he decided to revive one of the most easily dismissed subgenres of the gloriously sleazy golden age of Italian horror: the cannibal picture. He pretty much set himself up for defeat amongst his critics simply by honoring that genre, which is a shame because this nasty and funny little flick is a vicious shot in the heart.
Italian cannibal horror films may have hit some trashy lows, but the best example of the genre, ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, is actually a pretty clever indictment of colonial culture and Third World exploitation. It’s just that most people didn’t notice because the folks who appreciate that style of subtext can’t normally sit through director Ruggero Deodato’s assault of disgusting imagery. Eli Roth is an unabashed fan of ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, so his take on the genre honors the satirical subtext alongside the nasty text, just through a more contemporary lens.
Roth’s Western meal for his cannibals is comprised a collection of under-informed and over-entitled college students. To be more specific, Lorenza Izzo stars as Justine, a young college girl who embraces political activism as a means of finding an identity and improving her self-esteem without actually caring much about the issues she’s protesting. Soon, Justine and a gang of equally ignorant students fly to the Amazon to protest deforestation that they barely understand thanks to the manipulative ways of a charismatic professor. The protest works, but the flight home doesn’t and the gang find themselves plummeting into the jungle in a horrifying sequence. From there, its survival horror time in an unaccommodating and isolated locale until a lost tribe captures the twenty-somethings and serves them up for dinner.
As with all good cannibal films, the people served up for the feast are actually the exploiters. This gang of protestors doesn’t really care about protecting the jungle that eats them up. They just care about the image they present while doing so. The cannibals themselves aren’t offensive stereotypes presented as evil for being primitive. They’re a fully formed and happy society (Roth used a real tribe who had never even seen a movie before, so obviously he showed them ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ for inspiration) just going about their business. People will still claim that ‘The Green Inferno’ is offensive without actually seeing it, of course, but Roth wisely comments on the same folks likely to get offended in his movie. It’s unlikely that’ll help, but it’s a clever way of anticipating the problems (even if it’s not a particularly subtle technique).
Of course, while all that stuff is a nice way to give the movie layers, this is ultimately a commercial horror film, so what matters most is the visceral impact. Fortunately, Roth delivers the goods there too. After a somewhat clunky series of establishing scenes in New York that work better thematically than dramatically, the movie takes off once it hits the jungle. Roth actually shot in an isolated section of jungle, and that atmosphere bleeds onto the screen. From the moment the director unleashes a visceral plane clash, the movie jumps from one horrifying set-piece to the next. It’s a bit of a slow build, starting with awful injuries and no available medical aid. Then the cannibals show up.
Once it’s meal time, Roth holds nothing back. He kicks off with an absolutely disgusting disembowelment sequence for the first student on the chopping block that will make even hardened horror flans blush. This guy has a way with shooting high-impact gore and comes through here on many occasions. If it’s a visceral gross-out horror flick you seek, ‘The Green Inferno’ will deliver the goods and then serve up vomit-inducing seconds. Those with weak stomachs need not apply. This one is for the gorehounds and lives up to the controversial ‘Hostel’ standard that Roth set long ago.
Now, it would be a lie to suggest that this or any Eli Roth flick is perfect. He’s not exactly a subtle filmmaker. Occasionally, it can feel like he’s hammering home his fairly simple messages with the same blunt-force trauma of his gore sequences, and that can be irritating. Likewise, his actors aren’t always up to snuff. (Not the cannibal cast; they’re all delightfully frightening and casually naturalistic.) Roth’s stabs at comedy can also feel a little too broad. (There’s a big weed joke here that’s as inspired as it is annoying.)
‘The Green Inferno’ can be a bit hit-and-miss, but there’s no denying the impact of its peaks. There’s certainly no other horror film on the market that hits this hard and does so with this much ambition. While it’s not for everyone, those horror obsessed sickos on Roth’s wavelength should get a big kick out of it.