Directed by: Eli Roth || Produced by: Miguel Asensio, Jason Blum, Molly Conners, Nicolas Lopez, Eli Roth, Christopher Woodrow
Screenplay by: Eli Roth, Guillermo Amoedo || Starring: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Sky Ferreira, Magda Apanowicz, Nicolas Martinez, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand, Ramon Llao, Richard Burgi
Music by: Manuel Riveiro || Cinematography by: Antonio Quercia || Edited by: Ernesto Diaz Espinoza || Country: United States, Chile || Language: English
Running Time: 100 minutes
Eli Roth, long renowned or heckled for his gratuitous, grisly horror pictures like Hostel I and II (2005, 2007) and Cabin Fever (2002), has recently resurfaced to his controversial star-status with the one-two release of Knock Knock (2015), a decidedly less gory erotic thriller starring Keanu Reeves and his super-hot Chilean wife, Lorenza Izzo, as well as his long dormant throwback to Italian cannibal films of the 1970s and 1980s, The Green Inferno. The latter’s name is of course a reference to the film-within-a-film mentioned in Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980), which is regarded as the first found-footage movie ever made.
Before we go on, let us pause for a moment to consider two things: (1) Cannibal Holocaust predates The Blair Witch Project (1999) by nearly two decades, despite the fact that The Blair Witch Project is widely credited for “inventing” the insufferable found-footage concept as opposed to popularizing it, and (2) cannibal exploitation films are actually a thing.
Anyway, despite my longstanding aversion to torture-porn in the vein of the Saw franchise (2004-2009) and much of Roth’s own filmography, this film’s production has long circled the outer-rim of my attention due to its hilariously dark subject matter, its Amazonian setting, and of course its long-shelved distribution. The movie was written and produced in late 2012 and debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in the summer of 2013. Originally intended for a September 2014 theatrical release, financial problems with the film’s production company left the film in limbo until it was picked up by another distributor. After all these problems and a whirlwind of a distribution tour, The Green Inferno finally released Stateside on September 25th, nationwide no less.
No one in their right mind can overlook Roth’s overdependence on shock-tactics and hamfisted dialogue, but to his credit he has crafted a genuinely effective, intense thriller here. I’m not sure whether to classify this movie as a horror picture or more of a psuedo-intellectual political drama mixed with exploitative gore. Let’s go with all of it, then, shall we?
One thing I approve of is Roth’s patience and willingness to let the story build into the titular setting. He doesn’t just open up with a bunch of dumb teens stumbling through the jungle and happening upon a tribe of indigenous peoples with a taste for human flesh. I mean, there is that, but the money (bloody) shots come later.
No, The Green Inferno spends a great deal of time setting up its characters, particularly lead Izzo (the super-hot one) and her motivations for venturing into Amazon, as well as establishing the story’s half-hilarious, half-overly cynical and heavy-handed social commentary. The dialogue needs a lot of work, but the cast is great when they’re able to slog through Roth’s tongue-in-cheek trolling. Izzo makes a sympathetic final girl, and every other horror archetype (stereotype?) builds upon her, all the way from Aaron Burns’ likable fat-guy to Ariel Levy’s asshole-villain to Daryl Sabara’s stoner (“They got the munchies!“). Singer-songwriter Sky Ferreira adds some much needed spunk and comic relief to the earlier parts of the film.
Once things get to South America, the movie kicks it into high-gear with some exciting set-pieces and great location-cinematography. An intense confrontation between the cast’s activist group and a deforestation squad is arguably the film’s greatest highlight, but thankfully the cannibal-sections of the movie live up to the hype (if you have a strong stomach, that is).
I’m gonna give my honest opinion on the subject of torture-porn and excessive gore in movies: I’m about as much a fan of it as I am a fan of bloodless, gore-free PG-13 action films. I don’t see why films have to teeter on one extreme of the gore-spectrum or the other, why carnage must necessarily be measured according to arbitrary age-ratings, but for its part The Green Inferno handles things appropriately given its writer-director and the fact that it is about cannibals. The film does indeed feature people consuming other people, but on the other hand its cameras don’t linger on the bloodshed nor do the gore effects come without plenty of sardonic commentary to lighten the mood. Alien Resurrection (1997) this is not.
The aspects of the film I most disliked, however, were the frequent bathroom jokes and poorly used, totally unnecessary toilet humor. For some reason, a guy jacking off in public and a women releasing diarrhea with comical sound editing just don’t seem funny to me. This gag-humor is on par with the worst of Family Guy’s (1999-2019) cutaway gags and ruins the tone of the movie’s best scares.
In the end, Roth surprised me with a scary, entertaining picture that made me rethink traveling to the Amazon. I remain mixed on the film’s social commentary (re: slacktivist trolling), given how I’ve met numerous annoying people just like the characters in film, yet at the same time Roth’s dialogue feels as preachy as the student-groups he’s making fun of. That being said, the thrills of characters facing mercenary contractors at gunpoint and evading Amazonian cannibals (a previously never-before filmed tribe from Peru, for the record) outweigh the tiresome bathroom humor and genre formula. If you’re in the mood for some lowbrow thrills and chills this fall, this one will do just fine.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: The Green Inferno paces its violence and character development well, knowing that a sense of the inevitable and foreboding are way more effective than showing the goods too soon. Some of the earlier stuff is hamfisted, but I’m glad the film took its time telling the story. Izzo makes for a good protagonist and her supporting cast is almost as good. The film is no more gory than The Walking Dead (2010-present).
— However… Roth’s dialogue is wearisome and his do-gooder trolling is only half funny. The toilet jokes are completely unnecessary and kill the movie’s horror-tone.
—> ON THE FENCE. The film is worth it for old-school grindhouse enthusiasts and those willing to explore something different, but be sure to bring your barf bag.
? Did I mention how hot Izzo looks?
About the all or nothing treatment of violence; I reckon that’s where the bulk of the audience lies. Puritans who don’t want to see blood spurting out of a baddy’s head after being shot by an AK47, and YA mobs who can’t get enough blood regardless of how much the human head contains. Inbetween these two groups is that tiny band of sensible types who want intelligent films made intelligently.
Film studios know there aren’t enough of them and film makers are forced to make the difficult choice of Puritan or YA mob. (Oversimplification, I suppose, but it goes back to the old grudge that cinema audiences aren’t always the most discerning art lovers on the planet.)
No, I think you hit the nail on the head, right there. Most of the dimwitted masses are relatively Puritanical, but a smaller but significant amount of younger viewers are into hardcore stuff so long as it has no actual style, meaning, or substance. Look at how timid mainstream blockbusters have become, versus how explicit, extreme, and hilariously over the top mainstream television now is, e.g. Hannibal, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Penny Dreadful, Rome, True Detective…
Now a lot of those are good shows, mind you, but take away the shock factor of endless decapitations, rapes, acid corpse barrels, orgies, rape, mass-murder, crucifixions, decapitated head turtle-bombs, genocides, orgies, decapitations, people being burned alive, mass-murder, cannibalism…
…take away most of that and nobody watches any of those shows.