You know what the world needs? More cannibal movies. This mainstream return to this rarely spoken of sub-genre also heralded the return of infant terrible Eli Roth. Roth had not made a movie since 2007’s passable Hostel 2; that’s not to say he had not been busy – he had been writing, acting, and producing in the time between too. I’ve always had a hit and miss relationship with Eli Roth, and indeed with most of the new breed of horror directors. I wasn’t a fan of Cabin Fever – great idea but his handling of humour is, well, shite. I loved Hostel and while I enjoyed its sequel, it again sadly descended into farce for no reason. So, that was bad, good, bad – surely that meant I would enjoy The Green Inferno… right?
Wrong. The movie gets a lot right – it looks extraordinary and the gore and make-up are all wonderful to look at. The plot for me is neither here nor there – basically a greatest hits of films Roth has worked on or admired. Performance wise – no standouts or disasters. My problems are that it’s a little flat, there is again this immature need to insert comedy into it, and it really isn’t violent or bloody. I won’t say it’s frightening because I honestly believe this is a comedy at heart – an exercise in ‘lets point and laugh at these fools as they get picked off’ rather than something which makes me genuinely terrified at the predicament. You have to compare it with Cannibal Holocaust – that movie is truly sickening and while it also has laughs, it’s a film which will traumatize, scare, and scar. The Green Inferno is a film you’ll have forgotten about in a week.
The film begins with a couple of college friends doing a bit of Tarantino riffing – one of them – Justine – becomes interested in Social Activism thanks to a charismatic speaker. He wants to go to South America to protest deforestation. Justine says she wants to help, but is she there because she believes in the cause, because she wants to spite her daddy, because every entitled kid needs to go on a middle class backpacking adventure, or because she wants the guy? Whatever her reason, off she goes.
The group become viral online after a video of their almost fatal encounter with a local militia is uploaded – looks like their job has been complete, but on the way home their plane crashes deep into the rainforest. You know, the one they were trying to protect. Irony! Some of them are dead, some of them are not, but as they gather themselves a group of funky looking cats come out of the jungle and start eating and drugging the survivors. The rest of the movie deals with the survivors, caged, and watching hapless as their friends are killed, eaten, tortured, and subjected to various bodily examinations. Can they somehow escape this entertaining nightmare? Maybe, if only there was a fortuitously placed sympathetic child character running around…
I think Roth gets confused in exactly what he wants to portray in his films – he wants a message, he wants gore, scares, and laughs – great. His messages are often muddled or misinterpreted – Hostel had it, and The Green Inferno suffers from the same fate. The balance between horror and comedy always tilts towards the smiley side of the bridge and any horror is sacrificed in favour of gore. Getting this balance is always notoriously difficult, but there are easy solutions – don’t try to do both. Choose what you want – horror or comedy, and let the opposing side come naturally. It’s a movie about people eating people – perfect fodder for scares, but also perfect for some objectionable humour – it should come naturally so let it be. Critics reviewed the film with the usual platitudes about this being absolutely brutal and a gore-fan’s dream, but the reality is that the film is fairly tame; there is blood, but nothing to make you wince or marvel. The actual scenes with the tribe feel too short and I was readily anticipating the next gore scene rather than looking over my shoulder for someone with a fork in their hand and a ravenous look in their eye.
Having said that, Roth always manages to entertain. I tend to not have a problem with his characters or writing as the characters are meant to be caricatures – stoner, annoying one, other annoying one, heroine etc. I appreciate the throwback look, and callbacks to other movies – the cinematography and make-up here are the real winners ironically – you couldn’t pick a more beautiful place to be eviscerated and gobbled up. I’m still waiting for Roth to make something really special, and something all of his own. I’m hoping Hostel isn’t as high as he gets and I believe he has it in him.
Let us know in the comments if you have seen The Green Inferno and if it did sicken and disturb you, or if you found it boring and tame.