Published on October 1st, 2015 | by Chris Scott0
The Green Inferno Review
Summary: Roth's directorial return is grisly and gross, but not much more.
Red flags usually arise when a film gets ripped from the release schedule shortly before its supposed release. But when Eli Roth’s latest film, The Green Inferno, got yanked last year just before its release, it made me even more interested in seeing it. After all, this is Eli Roth, the horror genre’s anointed savior, and if his cannibal film was being pushed just prior to when it was to come out, this had to mean that The Green Inferno was the most vile, disgusting movie ever put to film and not because of some less glamorous reason.
I find it funny that I put so much faith into Roth, who to date has never made a truly scary film. His films are surely gross (the shaving scene in Cabin Fever and the eyeball scene in Hostel both still haunt me), but are never actually scary. His blend of social commentary, gore, and humor has always created interesting films, but none will ever be talked about in the same sense as the works of the true master horror craftsmen. His films, while touching on themes with depth, nearly always end up one-note with characters that are generic clichés. Instead of fleshing out these details, he yanks an eyeball out of a poor girl’s head and hopes you don’t notice between your retching.
But there is something about Roth, that just makes me want to root for him as a horror fan. He says the right things and makes you believe in him. So when he said he was re-visiting the much maligned, albeit rightly so, horror sub-genre of cannibal films, I was kind of excited. And then the delay made me even more excited. Could The Green Inferno be the film that scares me off South America for good while making me puke at the same time? Turns out, the answer to that is a no. And a resounding no at that.
There is no way around it. The Green Inferno is Roth’s worst film to date. The film is not outright terrible but, it’s not scary, it’s not vomit-inducing gross, and its message is muddled at best.
At the outset we are introduced to Justine (Lorenza Izzo), a well-to-do college freshman looking for a cause to fight for. She hooks up with an activist group, headed by Alejandro (Ariel Levy), and they head to Peru to stage a protest against the deforestation of the rainforest and the displacement of a tribe of natives. This is not a bad premise for a film, but The Green Inferno drags the setup out for much too long. This was sold as a gory horror film, but the first 50 minutes of it are mostly sleep inducing. It doesn’t help that, much like Roth’s other films, the members of the activist group are all one-note stereotypes. And, aside from Justine and the overweight guy pining for her, none of them are particularly likeable.
Aside from the slow start, the lack of likable characters is the primary problem for the film. Without likeable characters, when things start to go bad, I just didn’t care about their fates. And things do go bad. To Roth’s credit, when the plane carrying the students suffers a malfunction, the film effectively captures the terror and chaos of such a plane going down. The plane crash is the start of the problems for those that survive as the native tribe the group had gone to save moves in to capture the interlopers, and ultimately eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For a genre that has been known for shocking its viewers through extreme violence and gore, nothing in The Green Inferno stood out as particularly shocking. It is violent, gory, and gross but after a decade plus of films like Saw and Roth’s own Hostel series pushing the envelope, none of the violence depicted made me turn away in terror or disgust. Maybe I am broken inside or maybe we have desensitized audiences so much that nothing strikes me as shocking anymore. Either way, The Green Inferno isn’t shocking in the way Roth hopes it to be. He almost gets there, with the main character moments away from being genitally mutilated, but thankfully even Roth realized that might be a bridge too far.
Roth doesn’t help matters with his awkward inclusion of juvenile humor to lighten the mood either. Juxtaposed against the dire nature of being captured and systematically eaten like cattle, two scenes in particular stick out like sore thumbs. In one, a captured woman has a violent episode of diarrhea, complete with fart sounds and cannibal children waving their hands around to dissipate the smell. And then, in what might be both the worst sequence of the movie and the part with its best line, a captive kills herself and the remaining survivors stuff a bag of weed down her corpse’s throat which causes the entire tribe to get stoned when they bake her. During this absurdity two of the four escape while a third falls unconscious only to wake up to a pair of giggling tribesman whom are looking for a light snack, to which the doomed captive proclaims in terror, “They have the munchies.” It is almost so stupid that it works, but much like the rest of the film, the scene never quite gets where it wants to go.
The Green Inferno is an aimless mess. It wants to comment on young activists jumping in to support causes they know nothing about, but proceeds about half-assed because its characters are so thin. It wants to scare and shock you like the classics in the genre (Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox) did so long ago but it doesn’t seem to know how as its pacing and theme seem bounce around from scene to scene. And it wants you to be grossed out but compared to Roth’s past works, it almost seems tame by comparison. To its credit, The Green Inferno is actually watchable and well-shot. And too many horror films today aren’t, so there is a silver lining here somewhere.