Remember hearing about Eli Roth’s cannibal throwback/homage, The Green Inferno, way back in 2012-2013? I do. I also remember periodically thinking, “Whatever happened to The Green Inferno?” over the next few years. I’d read a snippet about production or distribution delays every once in awhile, but then I pretty much forgot about it. Then a few months ago it had a limited run in theaters that I didn’t catch. But I did think, “Oh. I guess that’s out now.” So, it was with great indifference that I embarked upon my journey through this divisive director’s attempt at an exploitation throwback to the xenophobic days of old. (oh. i guess that doesn’t narrow it down much or distinguish it from today really. i mean, the 70s and early 80s)
Justine is a freshman at a New York university, where she encounters activism for the first time (apparently). She’s skeptical of the “treehuggers” holding up signs and rallying support in the quad, but she’s intrigued. It doesn’t hurt that their leader is a handsome guy. She checks out one of their meetings, sees that they are capable of affecting real change, and immediately signs up to go with them to the Amazon rainforest to chain herself to bulldozers guarded by a paramilitary security force. (because of course that’s what your first foray into activism is) They accomplish their goal of exposing illegal logging via social media, but Justine isn’t too happy with the way they did it. As she sulks on the plane ride back, the damn thing crashes in the jungle! The survivors are captured by a “rarely glimpsed in satellite photos” cannibal tribe. Things don’t go super-well for them after that.
This is another film that uses ‘the other’ as its bogeyman. In this case, the other is an indigenous tribe in the Amazon river basin. The oft-used xenophobic devices of yesteryear’s films are employed here of course. We get cannibalism, war paint, the witch doctor type, the grimaces and grins of human beings shot and edited like they are the grimaces and grins of hellish monsters, etc. Roth is clearly trying to harken back to the days before the PC liberal police made it impossible to say what you really think. (that brown-skinned people are savages and will kill and eat you with a smile on their faces) For historical context, Roth has provided the viewer with a handy “History of Italian Cannibal Films and Their Many Names and Their Directors and Their Many Names” within the closing credits. Maybe this let’s Roth off the hook in the racist xenophobe department because ‘look, I’m essentially remaking these films’ or something. It’s easy for the viewer to fall on either side of this. Either you believe that Roth is sharing his nostalgia for Cannibal Holocaust and its ilk, or you believe that Roth is perpetuating xenophobic myths about ‘the other’. I’m coming down on the xenophobia side of that one. Especially, given Roth’s similar set-up for Hostel. ‘The other’ there was a different savage culture willing to sell you to a murder farm for a few bucks. Maybe a better historical reference than Roth’s list of cannibal movies would be “The Man-Eating Myth” by William Arens. The book basically says there’s an observer bias in reported tales of cannibalism. (those people are different from us and i don’t understand their culture; therefore, they are savages and cannibals) Am I saying anything new about The Green Inferno? Probably not. (i haven’t read reviews yet so i wouldn’t be biased) But what about the film? The actual crafting of a narrative? Well, keep reading!
BONUS PARAGRAPH! (since i spent so much time on the cultural insensitivity of the film, i’m going to put my criticism of the actual film down here. you’re welcome!) The Green Inferno evokes the films made by precocious middle schoolers in many ways – in the stilted, unnatural dialogue; the poorly delivered lines of the actors; the obviously failed pieces of costuming; the ridiculous logic of the characters (too many, “why would they…” moments); and the baffling direction and emotional tone of scenes. (obviously, not in the lush helicopter shots of the Amazon) For example, there’s a scene where the main characters get out of their motor-taxis and frantically rush amid the chaos and confusion of men carrying wood to make it to some boats. The editing is frenetic. The hand-held shaky camera work is disorienting. The audio track is cacophonous. By ALL indications, the audience is expected to be anxious. Maybe the group isn’t going to make it to their boats on time! Maybe someone is trying to kill them! Maybe a goddamn werewolf is chasing them! Nope. The two boats that they board are just for them. The boat drivers (captains? pilots?) are just waiting there. For them. Absolutely no urgency necessary. Furthermore, it’s hard to care what happens to these characters. Our focus is on Justine from the beginning. But by this point in the film, she gets swallowed up in the large group of college idealists. (some of whom look like real-world junkies by the way – sunken eyes, sallow skin, burst-capillary noses. it was a bit distracting) Then there’s the half-assed subplot of a “fat guy in love” with Justine that never gains traction. Justine doesn’t particularly seem infatuated with the handsome leader, even though we’re given that impression early on. Geez. I don’t know. This film’s a mess. So, what’s good about it? There are some great gore effects by Greg Nicotero (billed as “Gregory”). Daryl Sabara and Magda Apanowicz had standout performances. And there is one character whose actions are awesomely despicable.
The Final Cut: The poor quality of the storytelling and direction of The Green Inferno only further pushes this anachronistic love letter to racism and xenophobia into the not-worth-your-time category.