Crashing into The Green Inferno

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The Green Inferno (2013)
Dir: Eli Roth
TC4P Rating: 5

I felt kind of dirty going into the theatre to watch The Green Inferno yesterday. Sure, it was in the multiplex down the road, and The Green Inferno is meant to do ticket business there like any other movie. And the ticket girl didn't even bat an eye when I said "One for The Green Inferno, please" (pretty much as if I was a cartoon penguin buying a Sprite). Not even a flinch or a cringe or a disapproving shake of her head, just "And do you have a Regal Crown Club Card?" (Which I did...)

And The Green Inferno is certainly not a porn movie, even though I have read a couple of reviews that questioned the viability of the R rating given to it by the MPAA. But I still felt like a raincoater; sneaking off to see a movie of questionable moral virtue in the middle of the afternoon, low-keying my actions, not telling the wife I was going to go see it that day (though I had expressed my intentions to go to it at some point). My purposes yesterday were to get out to have some lunch, work on some notes, and see a movie that fit in with my Countdown to Halloween drive for October. But I just felt dirty... a lone guy buying a ticket to go sit alone (most likely) in a theatre to watch extreme gore, nudity, and people being eaten by native tribespeople.

Luckily, I was not alone. There was a couple sitting in the back of the postage stamp box doing who knows what in addition to eating popcorn. I took my customary first row, middle seat in the stairs section (the area with the handy bars) that we have all grown used to since the old style of movie theatre days. I had a nice cool water in hand, and that stupid pre-movie ad section with supposedly "special" behind-the-scenes sneak previews junk was running on the screen. But, even after the regular trailers came and went, I still felt a bit weird about the experience. 

However, once the movie started, that mood went away, and another one started... and it was... confusion?

I have a hard time settling Eli Roth in my mind. Just who is he? I have seen three of his main feature films to this date on the big screen (Cabin Fever, Hostel, and this one; I waited for DVD for Hostel 2, a wise choice). I enjoyed huge sections and much of the dialogue of Cabin Fever, but really hated the wandering tone of the thing. I liked Hostel much better as a straight on horror flick, and that was where I thought, "He's going to do something amazing soon." I adore his fake Thanksgiving trailer in Grindhouse (how I wish he would have delivered on that). But I found Hostel 2 really just... OK. It tried to push the Hostel series a bit further, but really came off as a lesser cousin. (The less said the better about Part III, in which he was not involved at all.) 

And then, except for the acting thing (a prominent appearance as "The Bear Jew" in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and a few cameos) and his name popping as an executive producer and writer here and there (the underwhelming The Man with the Iron Fists), he sort of laid low for a while. At least in my purview. And my perception of him, and perhaps quite wrongly, is that he was going to be horror's Tarantino. My perception was that, like his famous friends Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, he was able to take something tired and worn out, throw it in a mixmaster, toss in some other scattered influences and some sharp dialogue, and bring us something shiny and exciting. Something that had a new movie smell even if, at its core, we were really just seeing a very clever remix attuned to our now more ironic sense of genre and the world.

My feeling was that because Roth had been included in with the Grindhouse boys' club of Tarantino, Rodriguez, Rob Zombie, and Edgar Wright, it was a sign he was the real deal, and was just about to steer horror to incredible new heights. But that didn't happen. Other filmmakers have come along in the past few years and have brought that same promise to the genre. 
And now in The Green Inferno, while the film is bright, bloody and visceral as hell, and really gets in your face with its horror sequences, I feel it is a serious step backwards in Eli Roth's development.

The prime culprit is his scattershot screenplay, with some very cynical and confused politics at its core that never come off as believable for a second. An impressionable college girl (Lorenza Izzo) follows a charismatic douchebag to the Peruvian jungle to save some trees from ruthless and greedy land developers. Her crime (and that of her fellow students) is merely that she was really not well informed enough about her supposed cause, and has now jumped into an extremely dangerous setting far beyond what they imagined. I won't disagree that this is fine as a set-up -- the world is certainly full of college students following endless causes du jour -- but when Roth reveals his take on the connection between the developers and those battling them, I nearly spat water across the room. 

When you laugh at loud in the theatre at lines which I assume were meant as profundities, that's a problem. Another problem is spending half your time laughing at the film, and the other half laughing with it. Yes, there are some genuinely funny lines here and there in the film, but is The Green Inferno meant to be a comedy? If it is, it is a truly sick one, considering that not only is the subject of female genital mutilation broached in one of the college classes in the film's opening, but the subject rises again much later on in the jungle. I was not offended by it (exceedingly hard to do that for this boy), but was merely confused as to the filmmaker's intentions. [And the filmmaker's intentions were apparently to marry the girl, because he and starlet Izzo wed not long after the production of the film. Some crazy sort of Stockholm Syndrome thing at work here?]

Obfuscating the issue even more are the diarrhea sequence (the instance starts as serious but is clearly played for laughs), Alejandro's masturbation scene (which I thought was hilarious when someone starts to choke him to make him stop, as he just gets off even more from that), and a scene when the survivors stuff one of their friends' corpses with marijuana to get the natives high. The scene is absolutely meant as comic relief after the torture and death we have seen, but is done so broadly (natives just falling flat out of their tree perches onto their faces), it rather took me out of the movie for a few minutes. They should have just played Low Rider on the soundtrack.

The gorier scenes in the movie are exceedingly well done. The plane crash sequence is both thrilling and shocking, mostly because you know not everyone is going to make it, and waiting to see how the cast will get pared down adds excitement. Since nearly all of the college students in the plane, save one, are pretty much shown to be callow idiots from the start, having just one survive would be a bonus for me. Unfortunately, some will make it, but that's alright... you need someone for the cannibals to dine on in later scenes. Those sequences, especially the complete dismemberment, cooking, and devouring of one character, are astounding. 

Not so successful is the scene where a victim is tied to a stake (after his knees have been smashed in) so that CGI ants can run amok all over his body. Also not successful are Roth's inclusion of a very cheesy dream sequence late in the film, which leads to an even cheesier tag which points to a possible sequel. While I generally hate dream sequences in most cases, I wouldn't object to the tag if it made sense within the reality of the film, but all it does is come off as crass and outright dumb. It made me flip off the screen.

As an acknowledged tribute to Italian cannibal films from the '70s and '80s, The Green Inferno is savage enough to certainly show it fits in with the crowd. The end credits even list about 15 of the major films in the genre to help inform the public. Those same credits finish with the words "Per Ruggero," referencing (I assume) Italian horror director, Ruggero Deodato, who helmed the "masterpiece" of the genre, Cannibal Holocaust (1980). I have seen many of the listed films, and while I am not necessarily a fan of them or the genre, unlike the college girl in the movie, I knew exactly what I was in for when I stepped into this jungle. 

The movie does deliver on its promise of gory thrills, so if that is your sort of thing, you will enjoy this. Just don't try to examine it beyond that, and you might get out alive. Me, I needed a shower. Still felt a little dirty.


EggOfTheDead said…
Great review, Rik. You homed in precisely on issues that left me - less practiced in film analysis - with vague mixed feelings about Green Inferno.

I was very excited about Green Inferno, and re-watched Cannibal Holocaust (and tried to watch Cannibal Ferox - too stupid) before going. As you discussed, Roth *seemed* like the right guy to do homage to grindhouse fare. Now I'm starting to think that Tarantino and Rodriguez let him hang around because he's funny, like their dumb kid brother or something. Maybe he lights his farts when they're watching movies together? The passion for and immersion in genre films that Wright, Zombie, etc., bring to bear are lost on him. Roth seems so smart in his acting roles ... what a shame.

As disturbing as it was, Cannibal Holocaust was a smart, groundbreaking movie. The main feeling I came away with after Green Inferno was disappointment. Visually it was beautiful, Roth went to daring places and took big risks and - on some level - he had something valuable to say. Once he got to the jungle, though, he seemed to forget where he was going. The diarrhea and masturbating scenes could have added to the horror, if played straight. The marijuana bit? Nope. CGI ants? Ruined an otherwise effective moment. I thought the plane crash was great, but was watching with a pilot on either side of me both groaning and laughing at how unrealistic it was. Jerks.

What a wasted opportunity. We're never going to see another attempt at a jungle cannibal movie in our lifetime.
Rik Tod Johnson said…
Love your comments, Eggy. Yes, playing the diarrhea and masturbation scene straight would have totally added to the horror. If would have lent more nervous energy to the whole proceedings.

But -- less practiced in film analysis? Some of the smartest things I have heard about films have come from you. You could write reviews like this in your sleep.
I feel like I enjoy Eli Roth's films against my better judgment. I like Cabin Fever a bit more than you, it seems, and I will defend the sequel to Hostel as a noble, if somewhat failed, attempt at trying to actually do something genuine and interesting in what could have been a cheap cash-in sequel.

My problem with his films, if you look at them, is that he never writes characters that he respects. They all feature dumb college kids who get brutally punished for being, basically, young and not very well mannered. It was a bit of a sick joke in Cabin Fever, and one I enjoyed. It made sense in Hostel, which could be seen as an exploration of America's xenophobia in the 21st century. But to see it continued here, and in that earthquake movie he co-wrote(Aftershock), it's starting to seem like Eli Roth thinks all young Americans should never leave home.
Rik Tod Johnson said…
I agree with your analysis. He does seem to have it in for those who want to travel to exotic places (or just get laid in the woods). I will also agree that Hostel 2 does try to do a little something more than a sequel usually does; whether that is noble or not could be argued. I just think that it doesn't quite work as well as the first film.

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