The Green Inferno is a slacktivist’s nightmare filled with cannibal gore, smoked meats, and red-tinted natives, but more importantly, it marks Eli Roth’s return to directing since Hostel: Part II (2007). It’s been too long since we’ve been been treated to the torturous delights that Roth continually cooks up for his always-doomed characters, and while there’s certainly no shortage of bodily dismemberment in The Green Inferno, Roth first asks his audience a question – what issues keep you awake at night?
This is, after all, a movie about the best of intentions going HORRIBLY awry, yet Roth first tries to drum up our inner humanitarian by asking what we care about the most. Is it saving an endangered species? Whales, perhaps? Or banning fatty cafeteria lunches? Whatever the case, there’s a momentary sincerity where Roth actually wants to challenge our minds before answering that question himself.
What, you ask, is Roth passionate about, then? Getting back at those wannabe world-savers with their smug little drum circles, holier-than-thou attitudes, and cheesy acoustic ballads about plastic bottles being thrown in the wrong recycling bin. Welcome back Eli, you maniacal maestro of cringe-worthy horror.
It’s not a masterpiece return for Eli Roth, though. Despite effects work overseen by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, The Green Inferno feels like a simple vehicle for Roth’s twisted cannibal fantasies. Dirty political undertones bloat a more cut-and-dry indigenous kidnapping scenario with heavy-handed international satire, as we follow a group of jungle protesters from a preppy NYC college (led by Lorenza Izzo and Ariel Levy) and their prayers for survival.
To no surprise, Roth creates a film that hinges on the success of kill sequences alone, and while there’s no denying these cannibals serve up a heaping helping of gleefully tantalizing deaths, there’s also a noticeable lack of depth in the native culture. We’re simply outsiders peering into a lost civilization, and we reluctantly stay as such as the movie progresses. The characters are watchable and engaging, but gore rightfully distracts from their exotic practices. Roth attempts to toe the line between preachy and satirical, but The Green Inferno is all about deaths, and each character’s reaction to the carnivorous, unfiltered horrors before them.
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For those of you lacking on plot knowledge, The Green Inferno vies to be the Cannibal Holocaust of our generation, except instead of documentarians, Roth chooses a group of student tree-huggers as his innocent victims. With the help of a private backer, Alejandro (Levy) secures a trip to the Amazon for his activist group, where they’re to stand up against jungle demolishers who have their sights set on land belonging to a native tribe.
Their protest is a success, because they use the most common societal weapon available – live streaming video. The company backs off after their cultural destruction goes viral, and the activists celebrate another win for Mother Nature. But during their flight home, the engine on their rickety plane blows out, causing a crash-landing in the very jungle they were protecting. Adding insult to injury, the cannibalistic tribe they just protected mistakes them for loggers, and takes them captive. As Roth already said, “no good deed goes unpunished…”
Lorenza Izzo’s character Justine is our guide into Levy’s on-campus activist group, and her first impressions of the left-wing soap-boxers is as stereotypically judgmental as you’d think – then the first-world guilt sets in. She thinks about the female genitalia mutilation in African nations, and strives to become someone who acts on their convictions, versus those who are only talk. But Roth’s humor isn’t consistently poignant in delivery, and Levy’s charming savior act grows a bit tiresome during the introductory minutes. In other words, we grow hungry for the human cookout that inevitably awaits, and this cannibalistic anticipation grows until Justine’s plane goes down in a fiery wreck.
It’s at this gruesomely climactic moment that Roth reminds us what we’ve been missing in his absence – a child-like enthusiasm brought to the most sadistic situations imaginable. Eli Roth lives for these kind of statement-making death sequences, and the first official meal preparation brings a jarring jolt of squeamish horror that’s heightened by nonchalant natives who are simply at a backyard BBQ.
At no moment do we find ourselves at odds with the natives, only (slightly) sympathetic for the good-natured souls falling victim to cultures they never bothered to understand. For this, they’re subjected to eye-gouging, tongue-cutting, limb-removing, and any other act you’ve seen done to a cattle who’s about to become burger meat. Only this time it’s humans, and dare I say most viewers won’t be ready for that nauseating realization.
Yet, Roth has fun with The Green Inferno, given how dire a film it truly is. Daryl Sabara’s unfortunate demise is the kind of filmmaking that I’ve missed from Eli’s mind, as he blends Lars’ stoner-love of weed with a hopeful escape plan and a deadly case of the munchies. Roth could have stayed horridly serious, but it’s his jovial nature that separates The Green Inferno from straight torture-porn flicks of a similar ilk. The natives are warm enough characters for us to curiously observe, which avoids some weird type of National-Geographic-gone-wrong vibe that could have taken over at any second. The horror genre is Roth’s playground, and the games he plays are always full of imaginative, gruesome, wondrous life.
In the end, The Green Inferno isn’t the masterpiece we’d hope Eli Roth would return with – but it’s a chilling human drama with top-notch gore that’s worth an intriguing watch. Much like Cooties recently did, The Green Inferno gets by on downright vile acts of cannibalistic brutality that are vividly recreated through Nicotero’s VFX magic, most of which is practical. You get what you pay for here, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. So enjoy your blood-splattered bowl of popcorn mixed with bits of chunky, smoked flesh, and chow down on the deep-woods jungle massacre that is The Green Inferno (on an empty stomach, I’d advise).
The Green Inferno is the gruesome cannibalistic spectacle that Roth promises, in the basest, most palatable (pun not intended) form.