In the annals of exploitation horror, there’s a particularly nasty subgenre tucked way back in the corner and only illuminated by the most iron-stomached aficionados. I’m talking, of course, about cannibals in the jungle, which have, over the years, been some of the most brutal, controversial horror flicks ever committed to celluloid. Now imagine someone made a Scary Movie style spoof of films like Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust or Umberto Lenzi’s 1981 Cannibal Ferox, and that’s not far off from what you get with director Eli Roth’s latest endeavor, The Green Inferno.
Inferno, which actually takes it’s title from the movie-within-the-movie from Cannibal Holocaust, took its sweet time getting to theaters. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, it was scheduled for release almost exactly a year ago, only to be shelved at the last minute. Low-budget horror meisters Blumhouse Productions picked the film up and now, thanks to their multi-platform label, BH Tilt, it’s finally here for all to see in its full, blood-soaked glory.
Roth’s jab at so-called social justice warriors—people who hear about one injustice or another in the world, though the extent of their involvement is limited to rants on social media (think new college students learning about global atrocities for the first time)—The Green Inferno never progresses beyond sophomoric mockery and pale imitation. This plays like someone watched one of those earlier films and tried to make a facsimile of what they saw, and that’s all. Roth adds nothing new to the formula. If you stumbled across this on a warped VHS tape from the early 1980s, it would probably be a hardcore cult classic, but in 2015, it’s more funny than horrifying.
The plot follows Justine (Lorenza Izzo), a college freshman in New York who falls in with a collection of activists, led by Alejandro (Ariel Levy), who, when we first meet him, is on a hunger strike for janitor’s rights. Incensed by the injustices she’s just discovering outside the purview of her sheltered suburban existence, Justine joins a group going to Peru to stop the rain forest from being bulldozed and save an isolated indigenous tribe from annihilation. Here’s the rub, their plan actually works, but on the way back, their plane crashes in the jungle and the very tribe they rescued from eradication darts them, throws them in a cage, and, because they’re bloodthirsty headhunting cannibals, systematically tortures and devours the do gooders.
Somehow this is Roth trying to lampoon the old no good deed goes unpunished adage, but it is so childish and juvenile that it’s impossible to take seriously—you can almost here the wah-wah sound effect. No joke, there’s a scene where a girl sprays diarrhea all over and children laugh at her, and at one point getting the villagers high on a paltry amount of weed forms the core of an escape plan—it does lead to the most hilariously vicious case of the munchies ever seen, however, I’ll give it that.
For all the blood and violence, The Green Inferno isn’t even particularly gory or shocking. Roth’s Hostel movies are far more graphic and unsettling, and even though there are eyeballs being plucked from skulls, people being butchered alive, and implied female genital mutilation, it’s all edited around or shown with such jittery camera work that there isn’t much to see beyond a crimson blur. The movies Roth apes are admittedly, even 30 plus years later, hard to watch, and while some viewers will be turned off and appalled by the blood and guts, even moderate horror enthusiasts won’t find much remarkable here.
To call the characters caricatures is, I think, giving them too much credit. They’re flatter than people used to think the Earth was, completely uninteresting, and are all terrible, obnoxious people to boot—in his films, Roth seems to want audiences to root for people to die. None of them has a shred of personality, instead they have a collection of random character traits, like dude who smokes weed, fat guy in love with the hot girl, and bitch, which is as much depth as there is to find. With no investment, it’s hard to care that they’re going to be eaten, and in fact, in many cases, at least it will shut them up. And the script does itself no favors by spending far too much time with them early on trying to make the audience give a shit, which is nigh impossible, and by the time anything finally does happen, it’s too late.
We could get into the shallow, problematic portrayal of the tribe as nothing more than savage maniacs crazy for human flesh, and why this matters, but there are people out there who have made far more articulate and cogent points on that subject than I ever will. Granted, the films The Green Inferno draws inspiration from all follow the same lines, but it’s similar to watching the monotone portrayal of Native Americans in old westerns. Beyond that, within the framework of the movie, it’s just another failed attempt to make some faltering point about the state of modern activism. There’s so much that can be said on that front—and this is nothing more than a big middle finger to vague PC types, a “fuck you for caring”—to not say anything at all is a waste.
Overall, the biggest issue with The Green Inferno is that doesn’t add anything fresh, or even try. It doesn’t build anything or stand on the shoulders of what came before, instead it’s content to stand next to them and do exactly what has already been done, an the result is hackneyed and silly and not particularly interesting. [Grade: D+]