I wish I wasn’t reviewing this movie. There are so many better films out there I could be talking about. Why haven’t I seen The Revenant yet? Or Spotlight? Even The Hateful Eight? None of these I’ve yet had the opportunity to view. I could even make an attempt to be relevant and discuss Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, the most famous big terrible film out there at the present time. But instead, I’m going to talk about Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno.
Why, you might ask, do I choose to review this film, when I rarely do film reviews? It probably has something to do with my old obsession with horror films (which occurred around the same time as my teenage metal phase, which I wrote about in my last blog). I had been watched horror since the age of 11, and as my tastes expanded to ever more gory and shocking entries, it was only a matter of time before I discovered the cannibal film. A particularly un-politically correct sub-genre kicked off by Italian exploitation directors in the mid-70s, cannibal films are usually set in the jungle, often feature real animal murders, extreme gore (at the hands of westerners and depicted indigenous people) and content influenced by Italian shock-documentaries (mondo films) and neo-realism techniques. I would eventually write by Film Studies honours dissertation on the pinnacle of the genre (and a high/low point of extreme horror), Cannibal Holocaust. Needless to say, with a topic like that, my dissertation was doomed from the very start.
Perhaps mainstream American filmmakers like Eli Roth should start pointing their cameras towards the horrors taking place within their own country, of which there are plenty – rather than regressively projecting xenophobic fears onto invented demons in faraway places
You can understand then, my interest when I heard that Eli Roth was re-imagining the cannibal genre for modern audiences with The Green Inferno. The title itself is a reference to a scene within Cannibal Holocaust, so I knew this would be a film I would eventually, if reluctantly have to see. It took me a while but last night I finally gave this modern cannibal retelling a spin. Eli Roth isn’t known for subtlety, the Hostel series being the crown of his filmography so far (or arguably Cabin Fever), and staying true to form, you’ll find nothing subtle here. The start of the film is not completely terrible, framing itself as an American college comedy with a bit of an ecological thriller edge. A college ‘freshmen’, Justine (Lorenza Izzo), daughter of a United Nations attorney becomes interested in a social activism group, who led by a shady but charismatic student named Alejandro (Ariel Levy) take a trip to the amazon rain-forest to film logging operations which are obliterating local tribes. This ecological thriller plot I felt could have actually been an interesting. There are a few good characters here, such as a kindly ecological protester Jonah (Aaron Burns), who has a wee crush on Justine. He is also the first to be dismembered when the cannibals arrive (each limb chopped off one by one, and his head removed – such savage indigenous folk they are). Sky Ferreira is the best known actor in the film, although she stays behind in New York, and thus lives, having been a major character for the first 30 minutes, only to decide the mission to the amazon is a ‘lame idea’. Or perhaps her management had second thoughts on the films content.
Alejandro, turns out to be selfish and evil, happy to let Justine nearly be shot by the tree loggers, after the group of activists chain themselves to the fowled trees 30 minutes in. They survive however, having succeeded in filming on their smartphones the event of the loggers holding them at gunpoint. Their plane sadly crashes back into the jungle, and this is when the film moves from teen comedy/drama hybrid with some ecological themes, into a straight up classic cannibal gore-fest.
I was wondering how the film would tackle indigenous subject matter, and whether it would be respectful to real cultural practices. After all, cannibal films were ethically dodgy enough in the 1970s, let alone nowadays. It turns out not, and Roth’s depiction of the savage natives is as cartoon-ish as could possibly be. This is very much a case of foreign people being envisioned as the terrifying other, proving that racial terror is deep enough an American interest to be mined for cash decades after one would assume it was too offensive to do so. At least Cannibal Holocaust gave a understandable reason for the indigenous Amazon tribes-people to be cannibalizing the westerners – that the western documentary-makers had been inflicting horrors upon them. So it was revenge cannibalism. I guess the habitat destroying of the tree loggers in The Green Inferno could be one possible reason for the indigenous people’s violence against their captive Americans – and the American teens are shown to be shallow in their desire to gain shares and views for their smartphone slacktivism, but these are themes that are only weakly address. Instead, the tribes people are like demons, brutally murdering our western protagonists in a variety of gory but not particularly interesting ways. There is some commentary on ancient female circumcision practices, but mostly it’s all schlock violence. Towards the end of the film the loggers even appear, hacking down the tribes people in a torrent of bullet fire, thus saving our final girl Jan. Therefore everyone in this film is bad. The loggers, the arrogant westerners, the cannibalistic prehistoric indigenous people of the Amazon – all evil, all corrupt. It all adds up to one boring, meaningless, stylized mess.
If this was a smarter film, the indigenous people of the amazon would still be allowed to scare you – perhaps through ancient ritualistic sacrifice practices against our western protagonists, yet they wouldn’t be so completely demonized as they are in Eli Roth’s depiction. Painting them red, overdoing the make-up on the tribal leaders, and giving no reason for their savagery. At one stage, our protagonist’s force a bag of marijuana down the throat of their friends’ corpse. The natives then cook and eat this corpse, and in doing so become high. Queue a joke about the indigenous people having the munchies, which involves them suddenly becoming zombies and eating one of our westerners alive. In some sense, I guess this is an inventive way to combine between a teen-stoner comedy gag and a cannibal horror scene. Mostly, it’s mind-numbingly stupid, and undermines any attempts the filmmakers had made earlier to give any insight and backstory into real amazonian tribal practices. I hate to be a stickler for details, this is a schlocky teen horror after all – but the level of crassness in Roth’s scriptwriting made me miss the golden age of 1970s b-movies of which this film is indebted to even more. At least back then, the influential wave of Italian filmmakers such as Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi put some effort into realistically depicting the indigenous people in their notorious horror creations.
On the positives, the practical effects are good and the acting was pretty reasonable. Production values were slick, and it was nice to see the jungle back on screen. Roth obviously knows his horror, and the references to Cannibal Holocaust and Ferox were appreciated. I guess I’m just disappointed. I know that a contemporary cannibal film could be better – more realistic in it’s depiction of indigenous people, more detailed in it’s handling of current ecological issues of the amazon, less campy and less-reliant on American teen movie tropes. Perhaps what I wanted was a Werner Herzog cannibal film, and even though Roth used Herzog’s Aguirre Wrath Of God as a reference, he didn’t make it anywhere near that films daring guerrilla audacity. Perhaps mainstream American filmmakers like Eli Roth should start pointing their cameras towards the horrors taking place within their own country, of which there are plenty – rather than regressively projecting xenophobic fears onto invented demons in faraway places – all for the sake of another cheap, sex and death, teen trash money-maker.