THE GREEN INFERNO (2013–released 2015) : Movie Review
THE GREEN INFERNO : Eli Roth has kept plenty busy since the HOSTEL films with short films, television work and the occasional screen turn, but THE GREEN INFERNO represents his first directorial feature since 2007. Made in 2013, distributor woes kept it on the shelf right up until Roth’s next film (KNOCK KNOCK) was ready for release. Experienced horror fans already know that THE GREEN INFERNO is Roth’s answer to the Italian cannibal epics of the 70s and 80s. For those less familiar with this field?
Read: CRIMSON PEAK (2015) : Movie Review
Young Justine (Lorenza Izzo, Roth’s real-life wife) seems to have it made as the daughter of a wealthy U.N. diplomat, and she and her campus roommate are less than impressed with the song vigils and hunger strikes held by the local student activists for various causes. She does, however, profess a deep concern for Third World problems beyond her reach (or ken), and nothing could strengthen her resolve to join the activist team more than being told by their charismatic leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy) that she is neither ready NOR welcome.
So Justine abandons all caution and accompanies Alejandro’s eager crew (consisting of variously endearing character types and a handful of extras you know won’t last long) on a mission to sabotage a bulldozing project destined to spell doom for a tribe of Peruvian villagers (the film was actually shot in Chile) who’ve never known outside human contact. The concept that they’re actually risking their lives doesn’t strike most of the team until they’ve had time to think about it, but the constantly streaming cell-phone cameras they carry will hopefully “shame” the contractors in front of the world and prevent them from carrying out their destructive task. (And no, this is NOT a “found footage” movie, cell-phone or otherwise.)
Things go terrifyingly for a while, but all ends well. Somehow “too” well, of course. And when the victorious activists embark on their journey home, their plane mysteriously blows a gasket and crashes in the middle of the jungle, killing the extras and leaving the principals as ripe pickings for the very tribe they just supposedly saved (who, of course, have no idea what just transpired and know just how to deal with unwelcome intruders).
As with the HOSTEL films, Roth gives us a group of young Americans who walk blindly into a culture they don’t understand; not with contempt in this case, but with mere naivete–and once again, the machinations of various behind-the-scenes movers and shakers set them up for ghastly fates. The writer/director (a student of world history and current events alike) may admire the genuine desire of such characters to effect change in the world, but he’s even more bitter and cynical when it comes to what it actually takes to make such change a reality (as Justine’s father puts it, “We can’t just invade another country because they’re doing something that offends us. Anymore.”) and once again challenges us to prove him wrong, making THE GREEN INFERNO another compatible entry in his lineup.
Read: COLOSSAL (2017 release) : Movie Review
So… how’s the horror? The mainstream answer is that THE GREEN INFERNO delivers a successive series of shocks and gross-outs (KNB pulls no punches, particularly with the first extended act of cannibalism) that will challenge many a strong-stomached gorehound. The deeper answer? For a film dedicated to Ruggero Deodato, THE GREEN INFERNO actually follows the Umberto Lenzi template (CANNIBAL FEROX/MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY) throughout, to the point where fans saturated in the genre to begin with will easily anticipate the series of events right up to the ending (which, it must be said, isn’t a mere knock-off as it complements Roth’s own viewpoint perfectly). The villagers are enthusiastic and convincing (children included); there are inventive bits not taken straight out of other films (the “secret ingredient” and its aftermath are best discovered on their own); and the principal cast is believable and sympathetic (except when they’re not supposed to be). On the other hand, while there is, indeed, a parallel to the John Morghen character in FEROX, that in itself sets the knowing audience up for a payoff that never arrives (and the post-credits sequel hook is an extremely poor substitute). And while it’s a relief to know that no such production will ever condone live animal slaughter again, I was surprised that such material wasn’t even simulated for the sake of the film, the better to truly re-create the queasy effect of its inspirations. But then I remembered that Roth was also a PETA spokesperson and won’t even pretend to harm an animal. Fine by me, but the CGI ants look exactly like what they are, and I wish Roth could have obtained authentic footage of what should have been a majestic black jaguar, because the simulation just doesn’t come off.
THE GREEN INFERNO remains a good try, but it falls short of the truly devastating effects of its predecessors. Of course, I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing.