Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever) is a pretty divisive figure in the horror community. Some treat him like the second coming of Wes Craven, while others write him off as a flash in the pan torture cinema hack. Regardless of how you feel, though, it’s hard to deny the impact he’s made and the hype that his ’70s cannibal throwback movie The Green Inferno has surrounding it.
This is an Eli Roth movie. By and large you know what to expect. A group of Americans with little knowledge of the rest of the world travel to a foreign land and have a less than favorable encounter with the locals. Broken down like that, The Green Inferno is basically Hostel with a different coat of paint. And in a lot of ways it is. The point is, you should know what to expect going into this, and Roth doesn’t really attempt to defy those expectations in any way.
The film follows a group of would-be activists as they attempt to stop a construction company from bulldozing a tribal village. When their plane home goes down they ironically end up in the clutches of the very tribe they went there to protect. Unfortunately, these people are less than friendly and want nothing more than to have their guests for dinner.
The cast and characters are a mixed bag, but again… this is an Eli Roth movie. Not all of the acting is totally on point. Lorenza Izzo is fairly likable as Justine, albeit a bit bland. She’s your prototypical horror movie heroine and fits that role nicely. She’s likable enough that you don’t want to see her get brutally murdered, and what more can you really ask for? Aside from Aaron Burns’ Jonah, the rest of the activists don’t fare nearly as well, being characterized less like real human beings and more like cynical anti-SJW propaganda. In particular, Ariel Levy as Alejandro is kind of a despicable jerk. Justine’s roommate (played by singer Sky Ferreira) is also rather unlikable, though my biggest issue with her is wondering why she’s even in the movie, since she doesn’t go to Peru with them and doesn’t add anything to the plot.
The movie starts off slow. It takes a long while to set up the characters, get to Peru, crash the plane, and get captured by the cannibals. I caught myself checking the time once or twice before things got going, but once we get into that cannibal village it takes a hard turn. Every moment from then until the end is filled with tension, and this is the movie’s biggest strength. Eli Roth is known for making extremely gory movies, but that’s not always entirely true. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of really gory moments in The Green Inferno, but the most disturbing stuff here is what you don’t see. The most effective thing in the film is the building anticipation as you wait for more blood to start flying.
The other strong point in this movie is the stellar art direction, especially in the cannibal village. There are decomposing bodies on display everywhere, including plenty of foreshadowing and more than a few nods to Cannibal Holocaust. The cannibals themselves are painted head to toe with very little clothing and it’s a pretty effective way to go about it. In particular I like that while most of them are painted red, the two leaders are painted black or yellow. The one who’s painted black serves as the tribe’s executioner, so I thought that coloring was a nice touch. The gore that is here is well-done. It’s almost all practical. Those effects that are accomplished practically are some of the most realistic ones that I’ve seen in a while. The only effect that doesn’t work is a swarm of terrible CGI ants.
Aside from the visuals, the way the cannibals are portrayed is actually a bit weak. On the one hand there are moments where they really feel like real people. Extended scenes showing them eating what you know is a human being in an extremely casual way really does a lot to humanize them. There are moments that hammer in the idea that this is just another day in their life. This is just the way they live. On the other hand, there are times where they descend into little more than B-movie zombies. After watching their entire process of seasoning and cooking someone, it’s a bit inconsistent to then have them just take a bite out of somebody who’s still walking around.
In fact, inconsistent is a term I’d use to describe this movie as a whole. It can’t quite decide what it wants to be. While for the most part it plays out like a rather serious and dark horror movie which is meant to be shocking and disturbing, there are moments that feel a bit more tongue in cheek. On top of that, the humor is a bit too sophomoric for my liking. Poop and masturbation jokes just don’t really do it for me. Roth is no stranger to this kind of stuff, but it’s never felt as out of place as it does in The Green Inferno.
It’s hard not to go into this movie already having an opinion based on Eli Roth’s past work. I’ve always had mixed feelings about him but I fully believe that he’s capable of making a really great horror movie. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. It’s not a bad movie per se, but the awful characters, uneven tone, and lame jokes ruin it a little bit for me. Roth relies too heavily on the same old tricks when I’d really like to see him grow a bit more as a filmmaker, especially when it comes to the story, dialogue, and characters. I know I’m probably crazy for pointing out those things to pick on in a movie like this, but I have to call it like I see it. The Green Inferno is worth seeing for the stellar visuals and incredibly tense second half, but it’s not the slam dunk that I wanted it to be.
Wicked Rating: 5/10
Director(s): Eli Roth
Writer(s): Eli Roth, Guillermo Amoedo, Nicolas Lopez
Stars: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns
Studio/ Production Co: Worldview Entertainment, Dragonfly Entertainment, Sobras International Pictures
Length: 100 minutes
Sub-Genre: Exploitation / Cannibal