Directed by: Eli Roth
Premise: A group of college students travel to the Amazon to protest deforestation. When their airplane crashes in the jungle, the young people are abducted by natives who practice cannibalism.
What Works: Eli Roth specializes in making films about travel horror. Movies such as Cabin Fever, Hostel and its sequel, and Aftershock are all about vacationers in foreign countries who befall a terrible fate. Roth understands these kinds of stories and the fear of being a stranger in a strange land. The Green Inferno has a similar premise in which activists travel to unknown lands and end up in overwhelming circumstances. This picture uses the jungle setting in a way that is simultaneously beautiful but also frightening and the filmmakers smartly omit the subtitles so when the South American characters speak the movie conveys the confusion of being around people of another language. That confusion is key to the themes of The Green Inferno. Whatever the flaws of Roth’s movies he makes films that have a smart and cynical edge and there is typically some additional meaning behind the violence. That was most apparent in the underappreciated Hostel: Part II which advanced the capitalist critique of the first film and dovetailed it into an interrogation of misogyny. In The Green Inferno Roth again targets ignorant Americans who go to a foreign land; the young activists of The Green Inferno are of a piece with the backpackers of Hostel and accusations of racism and cultural imperialism in The Green Inferno miss the point. In the middle portion of the story, which is the best section of the movie, a group of ignorant and reactionary do-gooders travel into a situation they don’t understand and attempt to stop deforestation with their cell phones. This film indicts clicktivism and exposes the shallow and self-serving nature of social crusades.
What Doesn’t: A lot of The Green Inferno’s press coverage and promotional materials have associated it with Ruggero Deodato’s seminal film Cannibal Holocaust. This link has been overstated. Among other things, Cannibal Holocaust upended the clichés of the cannibal movies that were popular throughout the 1970s and early 80s. The Green Inferno has much more in common with the films that Cannibal Holocaust deconstructed like Last Cannibal World, Mountain of the Cannibal God, and Cannibal Ferox and so the second half of the movie operates on a very unsophisticated level. That becomes a problem for this film. The first half sets up a very interesting social critique but that critique goes flat once the activists are imprisoned by the natives. The Green Inferno is quite bloody but it isn’t very scary. The movie does not have much of an atmosphere of dread although neither did many of the cannibal movies of the 1970s that Roth emulates here. The practical gore effects of The Green Inferno are first rate but the computer generated images are poor with some of them not even meeting the visual effects standards of a television show. One of the problems consistent across many of Roth’s films is that he creates unsympathetic characters; for the movie to work the audience has to care whether these people live or die but they are never engaging enough to create compelling stakes. The film isn’t helped by its awkward dialogue, especially in the first portion of the picture. The themes of The Green Inferno get muddled. The film begins with a coherent social message but the way this picture ridicules social activism recalls similar scenes that were done much better in PCU. The very end of the movie is a non-sequitur with the surviving character making an unmotivated decision and the picture ends on a silly hook for a sequel.
Bottom Line: The Green Inferno is a mixed effort. The movie is less an exercise in scares than it is in gross out gore and the social satire is offset by a regressive take on the cannibal genre.
Episode: #563 (October 11, 2015)