Needs More Meat

Eli Roth cannibalizes a classic in The Green Inferno

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

inferno

The Green Inferno
Opens Sept. 25
3 out of 5

There’s no doubt Eli Roth knows how to make audiences squirm. Just think of Hostel’s “eyeball” scene, for example. But Hostel wasn’t a one-dimensional bloodbath. The movie transcended its gimmicky setup to deliver a clever critique of the all-too-common “Asshole American” tourist. It was also pretty funny in parts. Not every movie can pull of a sight gag with a severed head.

Unfortunately, while they’re all packed with gore, none of Roth’s other films approach Hostel’s quality (Cabin Fever arguably had its moments). Hell, he doesn’t even direct much anymore — he’s happy putting his name on subpar products (see The Last Exorcism Part II) for profit.

(Eli Roth is kinda the Krusty the Clown of horror, come to think of it.)

The Green Inferno, Roth’s first film as a director since 2007, retreads the “Ugly American” theme, this time with a nod to 1980’s grindhouse horror movie Cannibal Holocaust. The Green Inferno is more than just an homage; Roth borrows freely from that exploitation classic (which is still deeply unsettling after all these years).

Hoping to alleviate her liberal guilt, pampered princess Justine (Lorenza Izzo, Hemlock Grove) joins a group of activists trying to prevent the further deforestation of the Peruvian Amazon. But their plane goes down and the survivors end up at the mercy (or lack thereof) of a tribe of cannibals.

One by one the crash survivors meet grisly ends (not sure anyone needed it confirmed but The Green Inferno makes a convincing case that being barbecued is a terrible, terrible way to go). The first killing is shown in all its, err, glory — if you’re able to stomach it, you’ll probably make it through the rest of the movie.

While the second half delivers thrills and gore (beware pothead cannibals with the munchies!), the setup takes forever and it’s unbearable: awful dialogue, bad acting, poor understanding of activism — the works. In addition, Roth relies far too much on the supposed obscurity of Cannibal Holocaust. If you’ve seen that, The Green Inferno won’t be as horrific.

On the upside, there’s clearly an effort to treat the indigenous Peruvians with respect (other than all the “feeding on human flesh” stuff, of course). The hapless activists don’t understand the tribe and as a result they’re frequently the butt of jokes. It’s a nice bit of reverse anthropology but likely to get lost among the carnage.

I first saw The Green Inferno at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival (I’m at this year’s fest as I’m writing this). It was supposed to open later that year, but the production company and distributor had a falling-out and the movie has been gathering dust ever since (in fact, Roth has another movie set to open in October (Knock Knock with Keanu Reeves). In hindsight, The Green Inferno is better than the first reviews made it out to be but with the torture porn fad pretty much dead (hallelujah) it feels dated — even when it’s just arrived.

Roth can construct a scene gruesome enough to make people walk out of the theatre (hooray?), but it certainly feels like he hasn’t learned any new tricks in a decade. Too bad.

2015-09-17