As far as scary movies go, there’s a particularly nasty micro-genre tucked way back into the corner of the annals of exploitation horror, only illuminated by the most iron-stomached aficionados. Behold: “cannibals in the jungle,” which, over the years, has been the purveyor of some of the most brutal, appalling snuff flicks ever committed to celluloid. Leave it, of course, to director/stylistic curator Eli Roth to bring such wanton grotesquerie into a contemporary context with his latest endeavor The Green Inferno. He’s the brand of filmmaker who feels the need to combine the “parody” of something like a Date Movie film spoof with the likes of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust or Umberto Lenzi’s 1981 Cannibal Ferox, crafting something that has neither the ostensible self-awareness nor the controversy of either.
Inferno, which actually cribs its title from the movie-within-a-movie of Cannibal Holocaust, took its sweet time getting to theaters. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, it was scheduled for release almost exactly a year ago, only to be shelved at the last minute until the taste-making budget-horror maestros at Blumhouse Productions picked the film up and, thanks to their multi-platform label, BH Tilt, finally revealed Roth’s long-gestating splatterfest in all of its blood-soaked glory.
Roth’s jab at so-called “social justice warriors”—typically young, financially stable, non-marginalized progressives who hear about one injustice or another in the world and decide it’s their duty, without consideration for context or cultural acumen, to step in to help (think college freshmen learning about global atrocities for the first time)—The Green Inferno never moves beyond sophomoric mockery or pale imitation, making Roth’s deep-seated dislike for such people seem all the more pointless and bitter. In fact, Roth adds nothing new to the formulas he emulates besides some modern context: If you stumbled across this on a warped VHS tape from the early 1980s, it would probably be a hardcore cult classic, but in 2015, it’s more funny than horrifying.
The Green Inferno finds Justine (Lorenza Izzo), a college freshman in New York, falling in with a group of activists led by Alejandro (Ariel Levy), a caring stud who, when we first meet him, is on a hunger strike for janitor’s rights. Incensed by the injustices she’s just discovering outside the purview of her sheltered suburban existence, Justine joins Alejandro and his cohort on a trip to Peru to stop, among other timeless indignities, the bulldozing of the rain forest and the annihilation of an isolated indigenous tribe. The rub? Their plan actually works—but on the way back, their plane crashes in the jungle and the very tribe they rescued from eradication darts them, throws them in a cage, and, as bloodthirsty headhunting cannibals, systematically tortures and devours the do-gooders.
Somehow Roth feels obliged to translate his disdain for SJWs as a feature-length lampooning of the old “no good deed goes unpunished” adage, but his conclusions are so empty, so juvenile that he might as well have attached a “wah-wah” sound effect to the shitty trauma here (no joke, there’s a scene where a girl sprays diarrhea all over and children laugh at her). Not to mention that at one point, getting the villagers high on a paltry amount of weed forms the core of an escape plan—which does lead to the most hilariously vicious case of the munchies a movie’s possibly ever compiled.
For all the blood and violence, The Green Inferno isn’t even particularly shocking. Roth’s Hostel movies are far more graphic, easily so much more unsettling, and even with eyeballs plucked from skulls or young white people getting butchered alive—or, grossest of all, implied female genital mutilation—here Roth turns away, editing around the gruesomeness or employing such jittery camera work that there isn’t much to actually see. The movies Roth apes are admittedly, even 30-plus years later, hard to watch, and while most casual viewers will find plenty to make their guts lurch, it’s probably safe to say that even moderately attentive horror enthusiasts won’t find much remarkable here.
Roth succeeds in populating his film with the kinds of caricatures he probably finds in the ranks of typical SJW enclaves: flatter than people used to think the Earth was, completely uninteresting, all obnoxiously terrible—Roth seems to want audiences to root for people to die. No one displays even a shred of personality, instead carrying a collection of random character traits: Dude who smokes weed; fat guy in love with hot girl; bitch. At least getting eaten will shut them up. Yet, like in Hostel, the film dawdles in its early scenes, apparently to make audiences care? By the time anything finally does happen, the contradiction has doomed the whole enterprise. Because we don’t care, and even before the teeth start gnashing we know where Roth’s going with all this, reducing all tension to an obligatory exercise in forcing oneself to form a coherent narrative.
What about the tribe being portrayed as nothing more than savage maniacs crazy for human flesh? The films The Green Inferno draws inspiration from all follow the same lines, but Roth makes no distinction between his responsibility as a modern filmmaker to rectify the ignorance of old tropes and his allegiance to providing an homage with little reason to exist outside of ribbing the perspectives of privileged college students. It’s like watching the monotone portrayal of Native Americans in old westerns. Beyond that, within the framework of the movie, Roth seems to want to make a point about the POV of modern activism, but his faltering method amounts to just a big middle finger to vague PC types.
And so The Green Inferno doesn’t add anything to, doesn’t try to build anything off of, doesn’t climb on the shoulders of what came before. It is simply content to stand next to its ilk, doing exactly what they already did, unwilling to defend its existence past indulging one of filmmaking’s most indulgent filmmakers.
Director: Eli Roth
Writers: Eli Roth, Guillermo Amoedo, Nicolás López
Starring: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns, Nicolas Martinez, Ignacia Allamand, Daryl Sabara
Release Date: September 25, 2015