The Green Inferno (2014)

Directed By: Eli Roth
Written By: Eli Roth
  Guillermo Amoedo
Starring: Lorenza Izzo
  Ariel Levy
  Sky Ferreira
  Daryl Sabara
The Green Inferno

Considering its distribution remains in serious doubt, with certain commentators speculating about whether it will even make it to theatres, Frightfest 2014 attendees were lucky to catch Eli Roth’s highly-anticipated cannibal shocker, The Green Inferno, at all. Charting the ill-fated escapades of a group of seemingly well-meaning young activists – “Activism’s so fucking gay” a non-believer snarks early on – in the jungles of the Amazon, Roth’s first film in six years boasts his widest scope yet. Frightening, disturbing, and tonally very odd – often all at once – it’s a mixed bag but, for the most part, it works.

Lorenza Izzo, of Aftershock semi-fame, is our goody-goody Final Girl who, while bored at college, takes a shine to Ariel Levy’s charismatic campaigner, without realising that her father’s high ranking within the UN makes her a target for his publicity-hungry group. Although a well-planned stunt in the jungle goes well, the do-gooders/agenda pushers subsequently find themselves at the mercy of a bloodthirsty, cannibalistic tribe, when they are stranded, and before you can shout “Cannibal Holocaust!” eyes are being gouged out and arms sawn off in ruthlessly gory detail.

To be fair, The Green Inferno has more in common with Cannibal Ferox than Holocaust, which is still arguably the most famous – or, rather, infamous – cannibal movie ever made, and newbies won’t notice anything too familiar about it. The film is a rough watch, but it’s well-paced, competently-acted and as far from mindless torture porn as one could hope. Although horrifying and effective, the gore doesn’t overstay its welcome as it did in the Hostel films, and the instances of severe carnage are well-placed. A streak of misjudged toilet humour prevents the central predicament from being quite as tense as it could have been, which is a shame, but this is still Roth’s most restrained film to date and, ultimately, also his scariest.

The desperate situation the characters find themselves in is truly terrifying, and the time they spend trapped in a cage – which makes up most of the second and third acts – is, at times, nail-bitingly tense, even with the aforementioned dick and fart jokes. The idea of subtlety is something with which Roth has always struggled and, in The Green Inferno, something is highlighted so blatantly early on that he might as well have inserted a cue card proclaiming “THIS IS GOING TO COME UP LATER”. Unfortunately, instances such as this further rob the narrative of tension, because the whole film is then spent wondering when this horrible thing is going to happen.

The script, penned by Roth and Guillermo Amoedo – who was also responsible for Aftershock – is littered with sly asides and on-the-nose references to the current state of so-called Twitter activism, where much is said but little is actually done. iPhones are brandished throughout and smugly described as “guns”, but when things go horribly wrong, one member dryly notes that he can “smell” his friend being cooked, almost as though he has become so disillusioned that the gravity of the situation is wasted on him.

Roth clearly has a lot to say about the current generation, hiding behind their computer screens and pretending to change the world, but it’s unclear on which side he falls. The beautiful climes of Peru/Chile are lovingly shot, showcased like a postcard holiday, and the locals are depicted as openly disapproving of the wealthy, white, obnoxious out-of-towners. It could be argued that most of the group suffer the fate they deserve, and that they’re asking for it by meddling in things they do not understand. However, the annoyingly neat, saccharine ending goes against this idea, hinting that Roth isn’t quite as brave, or maybe as sure, as he’d like to be. His message is, therefore, quite muddled, which dilutes the impact somewhat.

The Green Inferno is a strange film. It’s very unsettling in parts, and there are some great moments of genuine horror – a plane crash is stunning and well-orchestrated, while one character’s death by ants is brilliantly disgusting – especially considering it’s a step up for Spy Kid Daryl Sabara, after he was beaten to death with a branch in Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake – while the premise itself is thought-provoking and topical. But the execution is all over the place, and the toilet humour really doesn’t work considering the gravity of the situation. However, there is still a lot to like here, and diehard fans of Roth won’t find their delicate sensibilities too troubled.

For the rest of us, The Green Inferno represents something of a welcome departure for the otherwise one-note director. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction and, hopefully, it will eventually get the attention it deserves.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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