THE GREEN INFERNO (2015)
(Directed by Eli Roth)
(Written by Eli Roth and Guillermo Amoedo)
(Starring Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy and Kirby Bliss Blanton)
Plot: A group of misguided protesters find themselves captives of an Amazonian cannibal tribe, who are hungry.
Eli Roth directed an Italian-styled Cannibal movie…and I am neither an Eli Roth OR Italian-Styled Cannibal movie fan…so I am sure this will be a wonderful experience! I’ve never cared for this genre because most of them rely on a handful of memorably graphic scenes, but 75% of the running-time is really just padding and animal cruelty. “Cannibal Ferox” is probably the quintessential example, as people see something horrific like a girl being hung up from her breasts and immediately think that was the entire movie, even though very little happened in the previous hour. You might want to correct me and claim that “Cannibal Holocaust” is the poster child of the Italian Cannibal flick and while it shares the exact same formula, it is the only one to be somewhat artfully made- which makes it distinct. But even then, I still spent the majority of my viewing experience glancing at the clock on my DVD player, before groaning at the realization that there was like 90 minutes to go. “Jungle Holocaust” is the closest one to being entertaining, primarily because it’s a survival flick, which diversifies the content. As for director Eli Roth, I do believe that he has talent and none of his movies are unwatchable- although “Cabin Fever” tests my patience. I want to attribute his shortcomings- which I will get into soon- to a lack of experience, but it’s been 7 years since he directed a movie, so it’s not like he’s trying to learn. His whiny reaction to the failure of “Hostel 2” revealed a very sensitive ego, so he might not even take criticism very well. With that said, I wasn’t really dreading this viewing though. Whether it would be good or bad, at least it wasn’t found footage or paranormal related. “The Green Inferno” can boast being the only movie of its kind to reach theaters since…maybe the 1980’s? The film stands out amidst the modern day horror trends, so at least it’s different…But different doesn’t always translate into good and I personally thought “The Green Inferno” was pretty f@cking bad. I am going to do my best to judge this based on its aspirations as a throwback to a dead genre, its merits as a standalone feature and its worth as a horror flick.
“The Green Inferno” is definitely colorful and my biggest praise is how these colors contrast so nicely, creating a very eye popping visual style. The villagers looked really cool and creepy as well, with those bone piercings and body paint. The special effects are really good when it comes to the gore, which is very grotesque, but strangely tame compared to other examples of this genre. Roth pushes boundaries for 2015, but if this was produced in the early 1980’s, “The Green Inferno” would’ve probably taken its nastier ideas even farther. We’re teased with genital mutilation, which happened in nearly EVERY Italian Cannibal flick, but Roth chooses not to follow through with it. I thought the ‘army ant’ torture would’ve been more vicious, yet most of it occurs off-screen and the aftermath was surprisingly tame. Make no mistake, this is still a very gut churning and disgusting movie. I thought the first major kill (by cannibalism) was the hardest to watch. There are some tense scenes, but Roth’s biggest failing as a filmmaker is his inability to grasp ‘tone’. Every time he starts building dread and allowing it to creep under our skin, he’ll throw in some sort of gag to deflate the tension. A girl being forced to defecate in front of everyone once they’re all captured is an unsettling idea, but did they lift those shitty ‘shitting’ sound effects from an Adam Sandler comedy? The noises were so comical and over-the-top that I couldn’t take it seriously. Or what about a character jerking off RIGHT AFTER A CHARACTER DIED in order to relieve tension? I don’t even know what I’m supposed to feel about that, but it completely distracts you from a death scene that was supposed to be tragic- I think. The silliest moment has to be when a character who is being eaten alive points out that the stoned cannibals (don’t ask) must have the munchies. If we’re supposed to find this carnage to be funny, then shouldn’t there be less scenes of girls crying and characters lamenting their horrid circumstances? At least “Hostel” only began as comedic, but eventually got rid of the jokes once things turned dire. Other times, there will be an unintentional laugh at some mistake. We’re disgusted when an old lady uses a sharp object to check for the females hymens, which is about as uncomfortable as it should be. But when the protagonist is dragged away, we see her wearing underwear even though it had been pulled down for the grotesque ‘examination’ and we don’t see her pull them up- implying the the cannibals did so for her. It’s just a continuity error, or maybe Roth was willing to accept that mistake so they wouldn’t show too much nudity. To Roth’s credit, he never does try to portray any of the nudity as sexy. These ladies are all very attractive and we see many of them without clothing, but I didn’t think he was trying to arouse his audience. But otherwise, the jokes are too awkward because of the grisly content, which is hard to take seriously because of the jokes. Oddly, the most suspenseful scene is when the protesters infiltrate the bulldozing camp, chain themselves up to trees and encounter hostile mercenaries. That’s probably because humor wasn’t used immediately before or after that moment, allowing the audience to know what they’re supposed to feel.
It’s easy to dismiss the characters as unlikable, but I think the problems with the character writing here and much more complex than that. “Cannibal Holocaust” introduced the idea of ‘so called civilized people being more barbaric than the supposedly uncivilized cannibals‘ and it became synonymous with the genre, regardless of how crudely the message was executed. “The Green Inferno” could’ve gone with the “Cannibal Holocaust” route, showing its victim protagonists as being more monstrous than the antagonists, but were they? We never see any indication that the cannibals would’ve received their ‘guests’ more warmly under different circumstances. One character says that “they think we’re the enemy“, but that’s presumptuous and “Cannibal Holocaust” at least showed the civil side of the cannibal tribe (who only snap when the idiot protagonists push them too far). Yeah, the victims of “The Green Inferno” are mostly comprised of idiots and assholes, but they never tortured and ate anyone alive. Roth could’ve also explored the theme from “Jungle Holocaust“, which dealt with a civilized man being forced to become uncivilized in order to survive. But the problem is that these characters lack any kind of depth. They’re actually very thinly written, so this possibility has no merit. The people who are ‘forced to do uncivilized things in order to survive‘ are shown to be amoral from the beginning, so there’s no inner conflict. “Jungle Holocaust” lingered on the character’s shame when they compromised themselves, but “The Green Inferno” just wants the shock value of the situation. Wouldn’t it be ironic if a germaphobe had to poop in front of everyone? I don’t even remember the character reacting to their humiliation, because we’re supposed to be paying more attention to the shitting itself than the emotional consequences of the act. Characters witness and experience so much horror and degradation, but none of it seems to traumatize them for very long or force them to change or keep them from saying/doing something silly. This leads me to believe that Roth doesn’t understand the themes of the movies he’s trying to recreate, only occasionally referencing them for the sake of homage.
The characters are annoying and Roth’s still struggles with the humorous dialogue. The Heroine is only participating in this noble protest because she’s attracted to the guy in charge, so she’s largely a superficial character. At no point did she ever transcend my initial opinion of her. She’s no pro-active, almost always relying on other- usually male- characters to help her escape. She never comes up with any ideas or contribute anything to the story outside of being the least obnoxious. There were opportunities to show how much these horrors had changed her, but she always seemed like the same person to me. There is a nice guy, but he only seems that way because he has a crush on the heroine and his constant interrupting of people in order to impress her got on my nerves. People crap upon the character writing in “Hostel“, but while they also tended to grate my nerves, special care was taken to show that there was more to them than what we saw on the surface. The protagonist might’ve been a sleazy douche who just wants to party, but he also felt deep remorse for failing to save a girl from drowning during his child-hood and this leads to a path of redemption, when the opportunity arises. The equivalent here is…the heroine used to play the flute, but quit…Wow, that is very uninteresting. There is an asshole in the group, whose douchebaggery is supposed to be a twist, but I thought that was obvious from his introduction. Amusingly, the only character with a shred of depth is the trashy, potentially slutty roommate, who turns out to be far more insightful and intelligent than anyone else. She’s so smart that she actively keeps away from this plot, ensuring her survival, although she’s kind of a bitch. But while you don’t like anyone, you don’t hate most of them to the extent that you’d want to see them die this way. Personally, I just didn’t want to see them. The acting is standard B-movie fare, which is a shame because Roth usually has an above average cast. Some do better than others, but it’s the bad ones who stand out the most.
I was also disappointed in the lack of atmosphere. I wanted dense ambiance! I wanted to smell sweat, blood and guts! I wanted to feel the heat and the bites of insects! This was one of the best parts of the Italian Cannibal genre, especially with “Cannibal Holocaust“! They drew you into the location and trapped you in its jaws. “The Green Inferno” never casts that illusion, even though it was visually appealing. Maybe that’s part of the problem, as these kinds of films are supposed to be gritty and even ugly. I found it amusing- moreso than any of the intentionally comical moments- how despite surviving a plane crash, being attacked by bloodthirsty cannibals, left to rot in a cage with little sustenance and being continuously abused by the villagers, the attractive ladies still retained their stunning looks. Even the aforementioned girl who got so sick that she had to take a dump in the corner never seems especially pale, because she’s got to look pretty. That’s why their deaths are more restrained or off-screen, since it’s important that their appearances aren’t compromised. The chase scenes should be intense, but there’s a noticeable lack of urgency surrounding them. If I’m running from a cannibal tribe, I’m probably going to move as fast as I can, regardless of the terrain. But if I am an actor in a movie, I’d move around as cautiously as possible, because no one is going to actually eat me and I might hurt myself falling down. I can’t really fault the cast here, especially since Lorenza Izzo nearly drowned during production. Safety should always come first, but couldn’t they have done something to spice these scenes up in the editing process? Maybe they could’ve added a ‘heart pounding’ sound effect? Zoomed in on the actors faces a bit more? Or hell, if this is supposed to be a comedy, I’d probably laugh if they re-used that pooping sound effect during the chases. Something! Anything! The music was usually a highlight of Italian Cannibal flicks- especially when Ruggero Deodato was involved, but Roth chose to use a generic jungle score. I’m trying to remember if the sounds of hunting calls or tribal drums could be heard in the background, but either there weren’t any or they weren’t pronounced enough for me to notice, but they could’ve potentially added an edge to the chases. I don’t want to say that Roth’s scene-by-scene direction was poor, as he knows how to create a striking visual, but individual scenes are usually his forte. He’s always struggled with the narrative as a whole, yet each of his movies have plenty of awesome moments…This had a few, but not enough. Maybe this project was too ambitious for his limited experience? Maybe he was just rusty? Maybe there wasn’t enough money to realize his vision? I guess it doesn’t matter, but “The Green Inferno” is a clumsily made movie.
I tend to get annoyed whenever someone calls “Hostel” an original story, because it’s really just using a conventional ‘chase’ formula dressed up in a unique premise. That is not originality as much as its just a different gimmick. I only bring this up because “The Green Inferno” also has a standard formula, complete with many cliches. In fact, while it has a different premise and location, it plays out in the exact same way that “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)” did. A bunch of youngsters find themselves in a remote location, get abducted by the locals, are tortured, participate in failed escape attempts and eventually rely on the help of a sympathetic kid in order to get away. “The Green Inferno” is the same shit we’ve seen countless times before, even if it tries to distract you from this fact. In the end, outside of the setting and gore, I don’t think Roth did an effective job at rebuilding this genre. I can kind of see what he was going for with some of these ideas, but he’s not a good enough writer or director to make them resonate. One thing he did properly recapture from the Italian Cannibal genre was an overwhelming sense of boredom. It takes 45 minutes before the ‘heroes’ are captured, so we get to spend plenty of time with these…enjoyable…multi-layered…characters…ugh…Then the rest of the movie is them waiting to be brutalized in a cage…Sometimes they’d have a flimsy escape plan, which leads to a brief chase before they’re recaptured and the process repeats. It gets repetitive very quickly and I was very impatient by the time the finale rolled around. Speaking of which, the ending sucked. I won’t spoil why, but it was a very unsatisfying resolution. I didn’t think “The Green Inferno” excelled as a movie, as a horror movie or as an Italian-styled Cannibal movie. I don’t really hate it, but I almost feel like that is worse, as it shows how detached and uninterested I was. I’ve enjoyed talking about it, but I felt very little while watching it. Eli Roth needs to learn how to direct his audience. He can film one hell of a scene, but these scenes often don’t work very well together and it’s hard to tell what we’re supposed to be feeling. I admire his enthusiasm and want to see him continue making movies, but there is SOOOO much room for improvement and this 7 year hiatus was not kind to his abilities.
Violence: Rated R. It’s definitely gruesome.
Nudity: There is a fair amount, but it’s not very appealing because of the circumstances.
Overall: “The Green Inferno” isn’t devoid of merit, but it highlights the weaknesses of Director Eli Roth and the genre he’s trying to bring back. Cool title though!