The Green Inferno
September 5, 2015
Eli Roth and Guillermo Amoedo
Lorenza Izza as Justine
Ariel Levy as Alejandro
Aaron Burns as Jonah
Nicolas Martinez as Daniel
Richard Burgi as Charles
Let me provide you with my own brief history of director Eli Roth. I’ve seen but two of his films. I was maligned by friends when I returned home from a screening of his debut film – going on and on about my love affair with the insanity that was Cabin Fever. Indeed, I adored it. The kung-fu kid, the over-the-top gore, the famous Cerina Vincent bathtub scene, and yes, the (even to this day) deeply disturbing Jordan Ladd/German Shepherd scene in the tool-shed. Nightmare stuff. However, I’ve not revisited it since that theatre trip so long ago, so I’ve no idea how it holds up.
And then there was Hostel. I hated everything about it. Suffice to say, I didn’t bother with the sequel. Frankly, the torture porn aspect (was there anything else?) soured me a bit on Mr. Roth.
Well, here we are with the greatly hyped The Green Inferno. I’ve remained open to this, knowing that I may have to review it. I’ve read little to nothing about it – and today, I finally saw it.
It’s by no means a perfect film, but it feels as though Mr. Roth has grown up.
It’s a stunningly photographed picture, with a well-drawn lead, strong performances, a sense of gallows humor and painful irony. And as is to be expected – lots and lots of blood and gore. Interesting thing is, in The Green Inferno, this grinding gristle and rampant gore is all justified.
Lorenza Izza is Justine (Izza is Roth’s wife, but there’s no nepotism here, she’s a very gifted actress) a college freshman, going through the motions. Her father Charles (prolific character actor Richard Burgi) works at the United Nations, and it’s clear that Justine’s had a pretty cushy life. She gets hooked up with a radical eco-group on campus, and eventually she agrees to join them on a trip to Peru, where they’ll protest the cutting down of the rain forest, which is in turn, endangering several tribes – many of which have never had any contact with the outside world. The group succeeds, but on the small plane ride back to civilization, the aircraft crashes into some remote area of the jungle. The survivors are swiftly gathered up by the very tribes they were trying to save, and things get pretty nasty from there. In case you’ve been living under a rock, let me spell it out for you: This tribe routinely engages in cannibalism.
Naturally, there’s been a lot of uproar over the film’s subject matter, but in all honesty – with the exception of a few scenes – the film is quite tame.
That’s not to say that it’s easy, but one particular epic gore moment was something we see almost weekly on The Walking Dead. Which means that there’s very little in the way of absolute, nausea-inducing gross-outs. We’ve definitely been de-sensitized – to a degree. Incidentally, the special effects are done by the current ruling masters of the gore game, Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger (also behind the zombies on the aforementioned The Walking Dead). There is no detail left out, and despite the fact that I’m calling this “tame”, there are still a few for real “gag” moments which were able to give me some pause (as in, “how much more can I handle before I have to walk out?”)
All of the performances are believable and top-notch. Interestingly, a large chunk of the cast (including Ms. Izzo) were borrowed from the little seen, but enjoyable film Aftershock from a few years back. Roth penned that script and starred in the film, with many of the actors being used inThe Green Inferno. The cast is quite large at the outset, but quickly whittled down once they arrive in Peru. While all good, it’s definitely Izzo’s film. She’s got giant, expressive eyes, and like most of the characters, Justine is put through the ringer. Izzo – and writer Roth – do a great job of drawing us in to Justine. She’s feisty, likeable and sympathetic. Her scenes with her admirer and recruiter into the cause (Aaron Burns) are genuine and loveable. And in a less important, but wonderfully performed scene, her farewell to her dorm roommate, Kaycee (musician Sky Ferreira) provides some legit realism as they both get the sense that they may not see one another again.
The airplane crash is extremely well presented. There’s lots of gross, disaster-movie goodness to be found in such a sequence, and it is sold perfectly. It’s unsettling and jarring and terrifying.
Character actions feel justified throughout. And in a horror film scenario (let’s take Cerina Vincent’s choice to bathe in Cabin Fever as a prime example) common sense choices by characters in a crisis, are far and in-between. Here, they all seem to make sense.
Look, we all know where this film is going to go. What’s remarkable about Roth’s journey, is that he is still able to spread a plentiful haze of unease. It culminates in the arrival of the survivors to the shores of the tribe’s village. The natives are all painted in red, and these long-haired, blonde and mostly white intruders are a wonder. The music in this sequence, the continual pawing of the captives – knowing they’ve just survived a plane wreck, so they’re totally out of it – and recognizing what’s about to happen, but you don’t know who will be the first to go – it’s all so damn skillful. It’s these moments, as the prisoners are taken to their cage (basically shared with other livestock) which are the most upsetting.
But as I said, The Green Inferno is not a perfect film. It was at this point, when things became totally unnerving, that my interest began to wane. I was impressed with The Descent-ish set-up. We were given oodles of time to gain character histories (some more than others), to understand this world and to form attachments. As in The Descent (yes, I know that the “crawlers” first show up exactly at the 55-minute mark), when the avalanche of danger finally hits, we are already invested. But while The Descent goes deeper (pardon the pun) into insanity, The Green Infernoflirted with boredom after that first “big scene”. It sagged. Perhaps I did have expectations for the end all/be all of cannibal movies. Let it be known, I’ve not seen classic cannibal films of the early ‘80s (Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox). While I’m a die-hard flesh-eating zombie fan, cannibal movies do not sit well with me.
What I’m saying is that The Green Inferno has a tremendously effective build-up, placing the characters in believable and legitimate peril, but once that first person is consumed by the natives (it’s not a spoiler, folks – you knew it was coming) it’s still interesting, but something of a let-down. Understandably, we can’t go on and on and on with scenes of cannibalism, but something suddenly became lacking.
Perhaps it is the marked change in focus which slows it down. We are given some inside scoop on the tribe itself, providing us with details on their day-to-day life, and achieving (what is the biggest plus of the film) sympathy for these red-faced and ghoulish cannibals. These acts are only part of their nature, their traditions and their way of life. We’re intruding into their world, so we pay their consequences. It teeters on the point of being heavy-handed, but the delicious pay-off from Justine in the denoument, knocks those borderline preachy moments right out of your memory.
On the other hand, this switcheroo doesn’t quite work to keep a smooth flow to the film. And that is why I think it loses some luster.
Yup. It’s an Eli Roth film with a (not quite subtle) message, an Eli Roth film with symbolism and an Eli Roth film with irony. While the message may hit you over the head, the title itself is spectacularly descriptive and symbolic. But the message does raise questions and God help us all – makes us think… and not just how the filmmakers achieved those nasty “meal-time” gore effects.
Our boy is growing up.