Studio: Universal Studios
Director: Eli Roth
Writer: Eli Roth, Guillermo Amoedo
Producer: Christopher Woodrow, Molly Conners, Eli Roth, Miguel Asensio Llamas, Nicolas Lopez
Stars: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Sky Ferreira, Magda Apanowicz, Nicolas Martinez, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand, Ramon Llao, Richard Burgi
A group of student activists is captured by a tribe of cannibals while protesting in a Peruvian jungle.
When it comes to two-word terms able to put gasoline on the fire of certain horror-related debates, “Eli Roth” has polarizing power on par with “found footage.” (“Rob Zombie” and “Platinum Dunes” rank high up there, too.)
Surprising no one then, is that Roth’s “The Green Inferno,” inherently engineered for optimal controversy given its cannibal content and unflattering depiction of an indigenous culture, swings a bold blade for sharply splitting opinions. While Stephen King takes to Twitter to tout it as a “glorious throwback to the drive-in movies of my youth: bloody, gripping, hard to watch, but you can’t look away,” advocacy group Amazon Watch denounces the film as “patently racist” without having seen more than the trailer.
King realizes what Amazon Watch doesn’t, which is that “The Green Inferno” should be taken only as seriously as the midnight grindhouse flicks inspiring it. The movie is neither campy nor outright comical, but it is wholeheartedly intended to be delightedly demented entertainment, not a documentary commentary on hot-button topics of female genital mutilation or rainforest preservation. One can either be offended/repulsed by imagery of tribal villagers salting severed limbs and boiling a human head with an apple in its mouth or chuckle amusedly at the absurdity of it all. Those falling in the former camp should know better than to watch an Eli Roth cannibal movie in the first place.
Justine is the girl-next-door coed everyone had/has living down the hall in his/her university dorm. Wide-eyed and wide-smiling, Justine chases her crush on political activist Alejandro all the way to a protest in Peru with like-minded students. Second thoughts are plentiful for everyone involved when best-laid plans go belly-up and a tribe of jungle cannibals captures the group, with Justine eyed as the main course in a mighty meal of college kid chowder.
Premise alone makes it abundantly clear that “The Green Inferno” is not to be poured into everyone’s teacup. It’s violent and gruesome, although the most squirm-inducing bits are mercifully blurred with soft focus and edited with quick cuts. Full-view gore is generally limited to body parts that are clearly KNB props and thus play as more typically palatable horror movie slaughter.
Scarring the mind’s eye with stomach-churning outrageousness is less of an agenda item than some might be led to believe. Roth clarifies that intention with more than one insertion of juvenile levity. A questionable masturbation moment isn’t necessary to make one character more of an a-hole than he already is and an extended diarrhea scene complete with fart noises probably doesn’t belong, either. (Starting with a dream sequence and concluding with an improbable mid-credits epilogue, the second ending also should exist only in the Deleted Scenes section of DVD/Blu-ray extras.) On the other hand, it’s hard to fault Roth for reminding his audience to process proceedings with good humor, even in bad taste, after the harrowing horrors of a live dismemberment and barbecue smoking of a corpse.
Beyond blood, guts, and take-it-or-leave-it gags of goofiness, “The Green Inferno” packs in plentiful tension with several tight “beat the clock” sequences. Suspenseful chases and narrow escapes arrive via students fumbling with locks and chains as a gun-toting militia approaches or making a run for it while dart-blowing savages nip at their heels. There’s much more meat to the movie’s action than flayed flesh and tribal torture.
Snickering cynics can also take sadistic pleasure in the film’s true message of activism gone awry. Real-world news is occasionally peppered with stories of misguided youth taking up one-person battles in China or the Middle East only to end up imprisoned or dead without coming close to affecting anything resembling change. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be reminded what can happen when idealistic college kids thinking they know everything about how to save the world end up over their heads, no matter how good the initial intention.
Dismissing an Eli Roth movie is easy when predisposed to disliking an unfavorable perception of his personality or perceived exploitation of “delicate” subject matter. Take such notions away however, and “The Green Inferno” deserves credit for charged currents of chaos in its carnage.
Roth has a tendency to hammer home the idea of “it’s only a movie” through overuse of his trademark themes and Chekhov’s Gun close-ups (a necklace, padlock, and passports are among a handful of in-your-face items Roth makes sure you notice from their first appearances). Yet when that kind of noise is stripped away, what his story really taps into is the dreadful fear of being stranded in foreign territory without hope, identification, or means of outside communication, which is an absolutely terrifying notion.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 75