This screening was part of Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Scary Movies series, for more information regarding the series – including upcoming screenings – go here. This review will contain minor spoilers.
Prior to our screening, Eli Roth was on hand to do an introduction to the film in which he prepared the audience for what they would be seeing, including surveying the audience for those familiar with “cannibal” films. He also offered an anecdote regarding showing the Peruvian villagers of his own film Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust and how willing they were to become extras in his film after doing so. He said that they thought they were acting in a comedy. They were unfortunately right.
I should probably start by stating that I’m not much of a fan of Eli Roth’s previous work, though I do admire his intentions and feel that he is absolutely a genuine fan of the genre and films he pays homage to. Mere good intentions do not a good film make however, and The Green Inferno is proof of that. Like Cabin Fever and the two Hostel films that followed it, The Green Inferno is best viewed as a sort of cinematic equivalent to a mix-tape that landed in the hands of the wrong recipient.
The premise of the film is as simple as they come (and it really doesn’t need to be more than that), and leads organically into the chaos that results in the 2nd and 3rd acts. We are introduced to Justine (Lorenza Izzo) as an idealistic college student with a burn-out roomate (Sky Ferreira), who decides to go on an adventure to the Amazon with a school activist group headed by the super suave Alejandro (Ariel Levy) to attempt to stop deforestation in the rain forest. Everything is downhill from there.
Roth does handle the first act fairly well. There is a lot of build up to what we have come to see, but none of it feels superfluous. We genuinely get to know our characters, it’s just unfortunate that almost all of them are unlikeable and/or delivered with bad performances. The worst of the bunch is Sky Ferreira as Kaycee, who luckily is only in the first and last portions of the film but it certainly doesn’t start things off on a good note and her interactions with Justine only serve to show how much superior an actress Lorenza Izzo is. Areil Levy does a good job being a charismatic douchebag and the rest of the cast play their privileged, convicted white youths well enough. At least for the time they remain on screen.
Here is where some serious spoilers come in, so if you want to see this without knowing how/when folks are going to meet their eventual demise, stop reading. When I first read that Eli Roth was making a cannibal movie, after my initial eyeroll I became legitimately excited to see how he was going to dispatch everyone. If anything, Roth excels at finding creative ways to kill off any living thing in his films and a tribe of headhunters could only make things more interesting, right? Well, yes and no. The major problem we end up with in The Green Inferno is that a huge percentage of the principal cast is killed in a plane crash about halfway through the feature’s 103 minute run time. The crash is intense and has gory results, but it’s hard to not feel at least a little bit cheated, even when there are branches going through heads. And then the cannibals come.
The Green Inferno hits a stride after the plane crash, at least for a few minutes. The cannibal’s introduction is swift and brutal and leads to the most gruesome setpiece of the flick. The effects here are courtesy of Greg Nicotero and crew and they’re some of their best work in recent memory. What The Green Inferno may lack in quantity of cannibal related deaths, it makes up for in quality. We may not be in Lenzi or Deodato territory, but we are certainly closer than we have been in many years and it feels pretty damned good while it lasts.
And here come my major issues regarding The Green Inferno. Once the cannibals are introduced, the mood becomes dark, really dark. And I expected it to stay that way. But it doesn’t. At all. It becomes a comedy. I don’t mean that it has touches of dark humor here and there, I mean that the prisoners start masturbating and shitting in their cage and are met with punchlines. I mean that a big crux of the last act involves a baggie of marijuana and the munchies. I mean that Eli Roth all but lost me in the last twenty minutes and never got me back.
The Green Inferno isn’t a terrible film and it may even be the best thing that Roth has done thus far, but for better or worse it’s not the cannibal films you or I grew up with. Certain staples of the genre are gone but not missed (animal cruelty being numero uno) but what is sorely missing is the exploitative zeal of the films from the 70s and 80s, which is something I’d expected someone like Roth to capitalize on. What we have here is perhaps a well intentioned and genuine attempt at revitalizing an all but lost sub-genre, but the end result just feels like leftovers. And after this much time has passed, I don’t want them.