I am not a fan of the cult classic Cannibal Holocaust. Copious rape scenes and genuine animal cruelty is not my bag. Nor can I claim to be a great admirer of Eli Roth. He gives great gore, but there’s too little to look at beyond the bloodstains. With that in mind, I didn’t expect to enjoy Roth’s homage to Ruggero Deodato’s Video Nasty. But Roth’s The Green Inferno, his first film in over half a decade, is a fun ride – even if It’s you have to get through a flat, melodramatic 40 minutes to get to the good stuff.
The first act centres on college student Justine (Lorenza Izzo), who joins an insufferable if seemingly well-intentioned activist group, lead by dashing beardy dudebro Alejandro (Ariel Levy). It’s a tedious set up with unconvincing dialog and cardboard characters, that make the Hostel films feel like nuanced character studies. Thankfully, things get a lot more fun when they trustafarians hit Peru.
A brutally and brilliantly executed plane crash later and our not-so-adorable activists are in the hands of painted tribespeople who didn’t get the memo that red meat is bad for you.
From here on in, the film is relentlessly thrilling. Kind and cuddly Jonah’s brutal death sets the tone, losing his eyes, tongue and then limbs. Suicide, diarrhea, natives getting stoned and the weirdest masturbation scene ever ensue. All of which is interspersed with morbidly humorous scenes of tribespeople going about the everyday business of preparing human flesh for consumption.
Thematically, there is more to chew on here [geddit? I’m here all week…] than some of Roth’s previous efforts. The film explores the perils of poseur politics, armchair activism and America’s imperialism. However, these themes are rarely more than flirted with thanks to the stale set up in the first half and the overpowering gore of the second half.
Perhaps even more surprising is that this is Roth’s least problematic film in terms of its portrayal of women. Who would have thought that Roth’s homage to such a sexist film would show some form of restraint? My sexist spidey senses were tingling as soon as female genital mutilation was mentioned, but Roth recognizes that the spectre of this type of violence is horrifying enough.
Of course, the same cannot be said of Roth’s depiction of the tribespeople. Portraying indigenous cultures of remote lands as insatiable cannibals in inherently problematic, but Roth ensures that these are no cardboard villains. Rather, we are dealing with people whose values and society are completely alien and uninfluenced by contemporary culture. This makes their behaviour all the more chilling. They are not evil, just impenetrably alien.
If you aren’t a Roth fan, The Green Inferno won’t convince you otherwise. Equally, even if you are a Roth fan, you could easily dismiss the film as covering old ground; both Roth’s and Deodato’s. But what the film lacks in technical and even thematic innovation it more than makes up for in thrills and chills. Perhaps the most frequent accusation thrown at Cannibal Holocaust and its bastard torture porn progeny is the fact they purvey gore for gore’s sake. This is fine of course but it can make horror films about as thrilling to watch as an autopsy. Where Green Inferno succeeds over Roth’s previous efforts is in creating a genuine and relentless atmosphere of dread to go along with the gore, making The Green Inferno Roth’s most terrifying film to date.