Horror fans have been anxiously awaiting Eli Roth’s latest flick The Green Inferno, which has been stuck in limbo since it’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Fest in 2013. The Green Inferno was finally released this past weekend and is just as divisive among horror fans as Roth’s previous entries in the genre have been. This gory throwback/update to the cannibal genre stars Eli Roth’s wife Lorenza Izzo the heroine Justine. She’s a college student as well as the daughter of widowed U.S. Diplomat Charles (the great Richard Burgi). She unfortunately falls for the head of a group of social justice warriors named Alejandro (Ariel Levy) who has a wall sized Che Guevera poster in their meeting room who wishes to use Justine’s status as a diplomat’s daughter to capitalize on his protest of a bulldozing project going on in the Amazon.
The group set up a plot to go to the rain forest to save an indigenous tribe from the “greedy corporation” which is currently bull dozing the forest the tribe lives in. After they manage to actually pull their plan off in a way that shows just how calculating Alejandro is, they board a plane to fly back home. They unfortunately crash land in the heart of the jungle, where they are set upon by the tribe they were trying to save. Alejandro had the smart idea to blow up one of the bulldozers during the protest and the tribe sees the 20 somethings as part of the enemy because of this and decide to have them over…..FOR LUNCH. The rest of the movie is a dirty, gory, mean-spirited trip through an cannibalistic hell that I can’t believe is made in modern day. Roth has been an unapologetic fan of Cannibal Holocaust in interviews for years now and it was no real surprise when he finally made his own cannibal flick. As always, the internet blow back towards Roth has been brutal with some people calling this Cannibal Xerox (a play on the title Cannibal Ferox — Umberto Lenzi’s riff on Cannibal Holocaust). To call this a copy of any of the other cannibal flicks is a bit silly. Sure it’s inspired by them, as they all were by each other, but The Green Inferno is it’s own beast.
Lorenza Izzo, who has starred previously in Roth productions, is amazing as Justine. A great deal of the plot and heart of the film hang on her shoulders. This isn’t a Rob Zombie/Sherri Moon type situation as Lorenza is a talented actress (sorry Sherri). We can infer a certain amount of nepotism and pride on Roth’s behalf on her casting. Towards the end of the film she is made up by her captors for some weird mating ritual/virgin sacrifice (it’s not sure which they are actually going to do) and she is covered from head to toe in ash in a scene that is a bit hard to watch, but the final product is weirdly erotic. As her husband and director, Eli Roth has done a great job immortalizing her on film as a cult icon. One of the highlights of the film is a friendship between her and one of the native children that wordlessly develops over time. The kid, along with the tribe itself, are made the most impressive because they are not actors — they are a real indigenous tribe living in Peru who Roth found and asked to be in the film. He screened Cannibal Holocaust (which they though is a comedy) to them for reference (they’d never seen a movie before). This has interestingly upset real life SJW’s who feel Roth has exploited these people. Because convincing people to be in a film of their own free will is evil. It’s impossible to watch the film and not see that the tribe is having the time of their life.
As with Lorenza Izzo, the majority of the non-native cast are imported from the earthquake exploitation Aftershock, the film Roth produced (and starred in) with director Nicolas Lopez (who co-wrote The Green Inferno, and supposedly is going to direct the sequel Beyond the Green Inferno). The cast does their jobs admirably and end up dying in various horrific ways. The gore effects courtesy of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger (not sure where Kurtzman was on this one) are some of their best, and most vicious work, since Romero’s Day of the Dead. I’m not going to lie, I had to turn my head in quite a few instances and expected my fiancee to break up with me for having taken her to see this.
The tribe themselves look amazing, especially the leader and the witch doctor lady. The rest of the natives are covered in some kind of weird red paint and as we spend time with them, they become strangely endearing. Justine’s “friendship” with the young native helps sell us on being somewhat on the cannibals side. Roth presents a moral complexity with them — while we are watching them destroy these college kids, at the same time we realize they are doing so because they are fighting for survival and think the kids are part of the construction crew/militia tearing down their home. They are protecting their TERRORitory.
On the negative side, this is an Eli Roth film and he can’t help but interject bits of sophomoric humor. There is a scene shortly after they are captured where one of the college kids gets explosive diarrhea, and the tribal children all laugh at her and wave their hands in front of their noses. And of course there is some pot humor as well (a great alternate title for the film would be Stoned Cannibals — this would also be a good band name). I also feel that Roth didn’t get as much out of the jungle location as he could have. The film has an epic location, but majority of the film is spent in the village of the tribe. However, with a plan for sequels to expand on this world we can hope they make full use of the setting (if the sequels get made).
Roth has said this film is supposed to be a slap to slacktivists, and SJW’s have responded by saying the point is undercut by having the group actually go into the rain forest and have their plan “work”. This is a fair criticism, however, it would be a very boring movie if it were just kids blogging about the situation. Roth makes his point about slacktivists by showing how completely unprepared for they what happens when they get there and are confronted by the militia protecting the construction crew. Their naivete is taken complete advantage of by Alejandro, and they don’t have the skills necessary to survive the event. The fact that the kids, with the exception of Justine and Jonah (Aaron Burns, playing a nice guy in an Eli Roth film, so you know how that’s going to go over) really don’t care about any of this. They are all self-centered and only doing this for the publicity and to feel like they’ve accomplished something.
While the film’s stance on social justice warriors is a bit muddled, the horror elements are very strong. This is a film for horror fans to sink their teeth into (see what I did there?). It was a big risk for Roth and the studio to release the film. It’s small theater release is just a step above going straight to video and I am skeptical that Beyond the Green Inferno will ever see the light of day. This is unfortunate, because we aren’t likely to get more hardcore horror flicks like this unless the financial support of the fan base is there. Between the luke-warm box office to the rather scathing reviews The Green Inferno is an interesting experiment of making a 70’s style flick in the modern day. But just like the cannibals themselves, the modern world isn’t as accepting of such throwbacks. Roth’s self-professed mic-drop hasn’t had the effect the director would like, but no one is a bigger Eli Roth fan than Eli Roth. Personally, I loved it and hope word of mouth and blu-ray sales prove me wrong on this assessment. In any event, the film got made and found its release and that is ultimately a huge victory for horror.