THE GREEN INFERNO – Fantastic Fest Review
The simple fact that a horror film inspired by the Italian cannibal movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s is being released to mall crowds is kind of a miracle in itself, so criticizing Eli Roth’s shoddily crafted homage feels like a somewhat futile endeavor. Some could argue that the obvious flaws of The Green Inferno (such as the unbelievably flat digital photography) are even part of the point, as the films he’s paying tribute to are, in and of themselves, wholesale exploitation. Umberto Lenzi, Antonio Margheriti and Ruggero Deodato don’t even come close to earning the moniker “master filmmaker”, yet they’re being paid distinct tribute by Roth; a horror fanboy’s love-letter to the upper pantheon of schlock (the film even borrows its title from an “unofficial sequel” to Deodato’s notorious 1980 film, Cannibal Holocaust) . Still, intentional kinks in craft are still blemishes, whether intentional or not, and The Green Inferno is chock full of them.
For most, the biggest takeaway from Roth’s cannibal film will be the director’s utter disdain for modern Twitter activism. The group of college students he sends into the titular Amazonian hell are an abrasive, self-righteous bunch. Rich kids led by a leader who scolds female freshman for speaking to him “insolently”, the broad strokes used to paint them consist of equal parts arrogance and naiveté. Roth’s two-film structure is back with a vengeance here, and the amount of time given to sketching these galling undergrads is going to test the patience of the even the most diehard Roth apologist. Trudging through the jungle in order to stop corporate bulldozers from wiping out the natives, their intentions never seem less than self-serving, seeking fame via various media outlets instead of truly giving a shit about the cause they’re “championing”. It’s a grating bit of set-up that will leave audiences praying for the savages to make these kids die slowly, as their overt sense of faux self-righteousness becomes overwhelming.
After completing their mission, the students’ plane crashes before it can lift them to safety, placing them squarely in the sights of a tribe of marauding cannibals. It doesn’t take long for the blood to flow, as the activists are slaughtered like pigs, smoked and fed to the village children. These moments of extreme gore are where (like most of Roth’s output) the film begins to truly shine. Guts are pulled from bellies, heads and limbs are crudely severed, eyes are gouged, and even genital mutilation is threatened. It’s all presented with a sophomoric glee absent in the Hostel movies (and the founding works of the genre), making it much more palatable for the denziens who flock to your local Regal.
While the violence is certainly soft when compared to films like Cannibal Ferox and Jungle Holocaust, this is one of the more splattery horror films to find mainstream distribution in some time. While it never reaches the giddy heights of the Evil Dead remake, The Green Inferno will test the intestinal fortitude of even seasoned gorehounds. Roth delivers on his promise of a well-researched throwback, complete with all of the bloody trimmings. And while he (thankfully) skimps on the trademark sexual violence found within the Italian originals, the threat of female castration is more than enough to send first-date filmgoers running for the doors.
Unfortunately, none of this really adds up to a particularly “good” film. This is probably Roth’s weakest work to date, as the final fate suffered at the hands of these savages never really justifies having to put up with their holier-than-thou horseshit. And while the homage to a dead sub-genre (there hasn’t been a movie of this kind made for roughly thirty years) is admirable, it also feels slightly half-assed. Thankfully, the director includes a list of much better films in the end credits of The Green Inferno; a horror film equivalent to an exploratory syllabus assigned to the audience after they’re done with Roth’s entry-level effort.