Movie Review: The Green Inferno (2015)

greeninferno“Don’t think–Act,” rants Alejandro (Ariel Levy) in Eli Roth’s latest addition to his exploitation-of-violence cinema entitled The Green Inferno. It’s a line intended to invoke laughter for those willing to see the humor in a group of sanctimonious, privileged college students guided by reactionary emotion rather than thoughtful planning. Donning masks and paraphrasing Saul Alinsky (“You must shame them”), these idealistic radicals become the literal sacrificial lambs to a scathing, politically incorrect demise, both horrifically shocking and admirably virtuosic. Grass-root leaders of social justice are depicted as self-serving hypocrites; eco-warrior tree-huggers are impaled by the very nature they protect; and, the indigenous people they seek to aid from impending civilization become the perpetrators of a horrifying cannibalistic ritual on their “saviors.” Thus defines the return of horror enthusiast and torture porn provocateur Eli Roth from a long, legal hiatus, with his bloody, grotesque, and satirical homage to the hard-core-gore cannibal films of the 70s and 80s.

There is nothing subtle about Eli Roth. His entire filmography–including his nightmarish debut Cabin Fever (2002) and his duel-dire travel warnings in Hostel (2005) and Hostel: Part II (2007)–is centered on graphic deaths, ironic tragedies, and unsettling visuals inspired by grind-house cinema. So it should come as no surprise that he has become the leading instigator in resurrecting an unwelcome sub genre of horror–Italian cannibal films. Roth has long admired the cult classics of the group, from Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981) to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980)–the most acclaimed of the midnight cult films and Roth’s leading inspiration for The Green Inferno. Utilizing Deodato’s story template of New York college students heading to the Amazon, Roth has the deliberate intention of not only paying bloody homage to his influences, but also of skewering (literally) the “slacktivists” of the fascistic social-media age. For Roth, to be an activist, one should avoid the pretentious attitude of a moral busy-body, spewing platitudes, rhetoric, and unfounded opinions from the computer. In The Green Inferno, Roth punishes the young idealists for being exceptionally naive in thinking that social action can bring about immediate change, warning his audience that activism without complete understanding of the issues brings unpleasant results.

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The message is rather blunt and boorish–painted horridly with dismembered corpses and cooked flesh–but one that has its merits. Visually inspired by the grainy art-movie travelogues of Werner Herzog (Aguirre, The Wrath of God andFitzcarraldo), Roth’s horror develops through overt, mocking tones amid verdant terrain against eco-warriors,  who proclaim to have a spiritual oneness with nature. This satirical device has been used for ages and can be found in the writings of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (specifically “The Mast-Head” chapter) and Jack London’s To Build a Fire. This satire is even more poignant in Carl Hoffman’s recent history Savage Harvest–a reflection on Nelson Rockefeller and his crew’s praising of primitive art found in Papa New Guinea, while those same artists made a grimacing meal out of Rockefeller’s son. Unfortunately, Roth isn’t exactly a poetic filmmaker and his blunt instruments of violence, torture, and blood-curdling visuals only take the message so far. He certainly has the intention of delivering a deliberate message, but sometimes it takes more than a barrage of powerful images to be entirely convincing.

Exaggerated obtuseness is not the only area of this film where problems reside. There is an inconsistency of humor throughout Roth’s often juvenile choices for laughs, including randomly exposed genitalia and the scene with explosive diarrhea. Those moments, however intentional, make the experience turbulent in tone, as if Roth’s ideas were pieced together from the hacked limbs of his influences. Still, as an exercise of brooding horror and mocking tone, The Green Inferno executes the replicated Hostel template with a slick confidence, carrying its weaknesses into a paradoxical experience of occasional enjoyment and complete disgust. You can’t help but admire the display of horror expertise in Roth’s detailed depictions of cannibalistic violence among the beauty of the Amazon. The villagers, painted red with ochre and chalk, of the authentic Amazonian tribe, utilized for Roth to capitalize on, showcases his talent for keeping part of the film grounded in reality, but executing the cinematic fiction through that exploitation. This rough divide is what creates an uneven experience throughout his films. Though he has the capability of being a smart and savvy filmmaker with keen insight on political, social, and philosophical realities, he gets lost in the repository of grind-house absurdism and immature humor.

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The Green Inferno is a deliberate film, not only in its intention to pay homage to the cannibalistic cult classics of old, but also in its sensationalist criticism of the social justice warriors of the internet age. Guided by emotional protests and reactionary sentiments, there is much room for criticism, especially through Roth’s representation of the environmental equal to the Occupy Wall Street movement that he recreates–an “enlightened” group of combatants who lambast hedge fund managers, despite their inability to define “derivative trading.” He may be criticized for reigniting the worn out third-world barbarism mythos, but that would be taking Roth’s strategy too literally. The violence is intended and his main focus is in skewering first-world ideologues, not to make real assumptions about actual indigenous peoples. It is through that thin irony and mocking of first-world pretentiousness where Roth’s written-in-blood homage to Ruggero Deodato may not have the sustaining power of the aforementioned filmmaker’s Cannibal Holocaust, but its display of provocation bravura and entertaining sadism encourages disturbing truths within its images.

Grade: B-

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