Aside from Rob Zombie, few current horror filmmakers understand exploitation cinema like Eli Roth. From his debut Cabin Fever to his ‘Torture Porn’ contribution Hostel, Roth has a penchant for gore. Yet Roth’s homage to the cannibal exploitation subgenre, Green Inferno, struggled to find an audience. Critics were even less impressed. Was it the excessive gore? Or was the cartoonish portrayal of Indigenous peoples too much for horror fans in 2015?
College freshman Justine joins a social activist group travelling to save the Amazonian rainforest. Armed with their smartphones, the socially conscious students intend to halt corporate bulldozers. But when their plane crashes deep in the Amazon, the activists find themselves at the mercy of the same tribal village they came to save. Now who will save them?
The Green Inferno a Tasty Treat For Gorehounds
Your appetite for Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno will largely depend on personal taste. On the one hand, The Green Inferno is not a scary movie in terms of jump scares or suspense. But that also wasn’t Roth’s intent. The Green Inferno is a throwback to ‘70’s and 80’s Italian cannibal movies. That is, Roth intended to make a pure exploitation movie. And in that regard, he’s absolutely succeeded. Aside from its relatively slow build-up, The Green Inferno is a relentless endurance test that will leave most viewers equal parts uncomfortable and disgusted.
While The Green Inferno is a more polished looking effort as compared to the movies it’s referencing, Roth has cobbled together a near perfect example of exploitation cinema.
Of course, this is how exploitation movies are supposed to work. While The Green Inferno is more polished compared to the movies it’s referencing, Roth made a near perfect example of exploitation cinema. Gorehounds will revel in the genuinely shocking death scenes. Certainly, Roth hasn’t scaled back and there’s more than one scene likely to prompt your gag reflex or just sheer discomfort. For instance, The Green Inferno’s first cannibal scene shows the literal dismemberment, piece by piece, of its victim. No subtlety here. Roth puts on pure spectacle. Later in the movie, Roth teases a genital mutilation that should have most viewers squirming in their seats. Picky fans may argue that this pales when put next to Cannibal Holocaust, but I’d suggest that this is a matter of degree. Overall, The Green Inferno is an intense viewing experience.
Under-Cooked Commentary and Extremely Date Stereotypes
Where The Green Inferno stumbles is its attempt at social commentary. Roth seems to badly want to say something about ‘slack-tivism’ among college students. Given ‘hashtag activism’ and ‘cancel culture’s’ recent emergence, The Green Inferno positioned itself to be an almost prescient movie. Unfortunately, Roth’s stab at subtext isn’t nearly as clever as intended. Maybe there’s a half-interesting point about lazy activism buried in the gore. His characters certainly share a ‘know-it-all’ arrogance that instantly grates on you.
Instead Roth gives us a movie that pokes fun at the earnestness of his college activists before subjecting them to abject brutality.
Yet it’s Roth’s depiction of Indigenous peoples as ‘cannibalistic savages’ that undermines any commentary on modern day activism. The concept was out of date when Ruggero Deodato made Cannibal Holocaust. It’s most definitely a dated concept now. A movie where well-intentioned middle-class college students turn out to be the villains might have been subversive. Instead Roth gives us a movie that pokes fun at the earnestness of his college activists before subjecting them to abject brutality. Though Roth half-heartedly demonizes corporations, he fully casts the Indigenous peoples here as cartoonish villains.
Production Values and Acting
Where The Green Inferno really departs from its exploitation roots is its production values and acting. In spite of its almost non-stop violence, this may be Eli Roth’s prettiest looking movie. Cinematographer Antonio Quercia frames some lush wide shots of the Amazon. All the camera shots are crisp and sharp distinguishing The Green Inferno from its grainy counterparts.
No one was going to win an Oscar for a cannibal survival horror movie. Nonetheless, the performances are convincing and strong across the board. Roth’s wife, Lorenza Izzo, makes for a likeable protagonist. As the smug Alejandro, Ariel Levy is equal parts charismatic and loathable. Former child actor and longtime Robert Rodriguez collaborator, Daryl Sabara, adds much needed occasional levity to the gruesomeness.
The Green Inferno May Be Too Raw For Casual Horror Fans
Ultimately, The Green Inferno continues Eli Roth’s mixed filmography. It’s as bold and gruesome as one would expect. That is, if you’re looking for hardcore horror, Roth doesn’t compromise. Audiences in 2019 may find Roth’s less-than-sympathetic depiction of ‘social justice warriors’ hard to swallow. Similarly, Roth’s portrayal of Indigenous peoples will absolutely offender younger viewers. For horror fans who can look past these faults, The Green Inferno offers enough brutality to satisfy.