Eli Roth is one of those directors you either hate or find yourself rooting for. His uncontained enthusiasm for everything cinema is always in heavy supply, and we always wait to see if he will put that enthusiasm to great use. His overall resume has been a mixed bag with him having made good movies like “Hostel” to disappointments like “Hostel II,” and the last few years have had him working prolifically as an actor and a producer. But for every entertaining flick he makes like “Aftershock,” there’s a misfire like “The Man with the Iron Fists.” Still, he did get to act in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” and that sort of evens things out.
Now after all these years, Roth is back in the director’s chair with “The Green Inferno,” his ode to the infamous cannibal movies of the 70’s and 80’s like “Cannibal Holocaust.” As you can guess, it’s a real gore fest which will appeal to die-hard horror fans everywhere and turn everyone else into lifetime vegetarians. It doesn’t get off to a good start and it takes a while to get to the stomach churning parts, but things do get better as well as very unnerving as the movie goes on.
Lorenza Izzo stars as a college freshman in New York City has led a very sheltered suburban life up until this point. Desperate to make a difference in the world, she ends up joining a social activism group which is planning a trip to the Amazon rainforest to stop companies from tearing down the land and obliterating the tribes who have lived there for years. In short, things don’t go as planned as the plane carrying the activists crashes in the forest (and it’s a cool crash too), and they are met by a tribe looking to cure their hunger pangs in the worst way possible.
In all honesty, “The Green Inferno” gets off to a bad start because the writing and acting are nothing to brag about, and it takes a while for the movie to get to the forest where the real action begins. The dialogue is at times cringe-inducing and the acting feels way too forced to where it looks like the movie will be an outright disaster. But once the hungry tribe shows up on the screen, the movie finds its footing and doesn’t hold anything back. Bodies are torn apart and eaten, limbs are cooked and eyeballs explode, and that’s just the appetizer.
Roth’s direction of the tribe here is excellent in that he never lets us see them act. They just go about their usual daily business of taking care of their loved ones while wiping off the bones of a recently digested captive. Watching them sort through body parts and preparing them for dinner ends up being as funny as it is unsettling, and this makes “The Green Inferno” seem less like a movie and more as an experience to be endured. He sticks the viewer right in the middle of these college students’ predicament and makes us feel their desperation in trying to escape certain death.
Some have protested against “The Green Inferno” as they feel it portrays indigenous people as mere savages. Look, this is just a movie and the tribe presented here is hardly (if at all) representative of indigenous people as a whole. The fact that people find this movie more threatening than the gas companies which continue to raid the lands these “savages” live in is utterly ridiculous. There a lot more things in the world which are far more threatening than a single motion picture.
But seriously, Roth isn’t out to demonize indigenous people at all. His real target is those student activists who blindly fight for a cause they know little about and which they are ill-prepared to take on. While they come to this protest with the best of intentions, they soon discover that their ignorance of certain matters is anything but blissful. Some will not be deserving of the fate that you know will befall them, but others like the group’s leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy) are just asking to be carved up and torn apart.
The acting for the most part is serviceable if not spectacular. Izzo makes for an appealing heroine, and we root for her to escape a savage fate. One actor who stands out in particular is Daryl Sabara of “Spy Kids” and “World’s Greatest Dad” fame as he provides the comic relief this movie needs during its most intense moments. His plan on putting all of his weed into a dead body about to be baked goes hilariously wrong as he fails to remember that smoking it gives you a serious case of the munchies.
The ending of “The Green Inferno” is perplexing as it has a character doing a 180 degree turn which doesn’t make a lot of sense, and a post credits sequence that is really nothing more than a set up for a potential sequel. In essence, this is a good horror movie sandwiched between an awkward beginning and a logic defying ending. Your enjoyment of this movie may depend how well you deal with its most flawed elements, but horror and gore hounds should get a kick out of the proceedings once Roth finds his footing in the jungle.
“Cannibal Holocaust” and “Cannibal Ferox” remain very controversial movies decades after their release, but it doesn’t look like “The Green Inferno” will be achieve that same notoriety (not in America anyway). Still, it proves to be an intense ride that dares you to look away from the screen, but you can never look away for long.