There’s something irresistibly primal about cannibalism. The sordid concept has been explored in all forms of media; a tale of terror and woe that has existed as long as mankind has walked this earth. Often used as a means to terrify a populace into obedience, or as a warning to beware the other, the evil just outside the safety of home, cannibalistic stories are a constant. Acclaimed horror director Eli Roth’s latest film The Green Inferno seeks to continue the cannibalistic tradition of films like Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox. As with those films The Green Inferno boils down to a group of hapless westerners traveling to the Amazon only to wind up in the belly of savages. What sets Roth’s film apart from these other Grindhouse tales is the somewhat mild twist he puts on those destined to be a quick meal.
The movies begins on a college campus. Justine (Lorenza Itto) is a big eyed, idealistic wannabe activist of a freshman who’s woken up by a group of hunger striking protesters just outside her window. While sitting in class (some kind of history/anthropology lecture) she learns about female genital mutilation, which foreshadows the horror to come, and those who perpetrate it in places like the Amazon. Whether spurned on by that, or an attraction to the fellow running the campus activist group she joins up and is shortly thereafter on a plane to the rainforest to stop deforestation and the deaths of indigenous tribes. It’s a nobel enough cause, but the real kick here is how the activists are portrayed. Eli Roth has been vocal in interviews and other media about how he wanted this film to represent a comeuppance for all those internet social justice warriors and slacktivists who hurl themselves at so called “noble” causes without really understanding what they stand for or what they’re getting themselves into. That fact is apparent with how these characters are portrayed, but as with many of these types of people they are ultimately interchangeable. We don’t know these characters. We’re supposed to feel for them, I guess, because they’re in a horrible situation. Unfortunately, because of how Roth set these kids up as hapless wannabe activists, I couldn’t be bothered to care about them because they put themselves into this peril. True, nobody deserves to be eaten or killed in such a brutal fashion, but a quick google search might have alerted these kids to the horrors that await.
The team of plucky college kids succeed in disrupting a deforestation company and from there catch a plane ride home. Naturally, the plane crashes and the surviving activists are taken prisoner by a blood red tribe of savages. Their bright crimson skin and bone pierced faces make them look less than human, which I imagine was the point. It doesn’t take too long for each of the characters to be killed and eaten. The first kill, in particular, was fairly disgusting and a treat for the gore hounds out there. A man gets his eyes, tongue, limbs and then head removed with a crude chopping instrument. Unfortunately none of the other kills have a similar level of carnage, so once numbed by the first splash of gore nothing else hits as hard. Once down to the last two victims, Justine escapes and is rescued by the same people she had sabotaged and protested earlier in the film. It’s such a predictable outcome that the irony of the situation is lost. It’s a fairly standard horror plot. Happy, idealistic kids get slaughtered one after the other by a boogeyman, or boogeymen in this instance.
As I mentioned above the first kill in the movie is suitably hardcore. From there nothing holds up to that standard. I’ve seen much nastier, gorier stuff on cable television. Shows like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Hannibal are all much more visceral and bloody at times. Normally I wouldn’t mention this in a review, as the gore is something that either is, or isn’t and rarely impacts the story. It’s the act that matters. The reason I bring it up is because The Green Inferno is really being sold as an impossible to watch, bring your own barf bag, kind of gore fiesta. It’s not. It really isn’t. The one dimensional characters bored me in the beginning and by the time all hell breaks lose (around 45 minutes in) the film has lost me. If I don’t care about the characters, then dazzle me with special effects madness. The opening credits reveal Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger as the gore wizards behind the madness so I was expecting something extreme. Make it a bloody, gory mess, especially if that’s what you’ve marketed the film as being chalk full of. In the end a lack of interesting characters and lackluster gore makes this film feel empty.
It’s interesting that Eli Roth chose to make the kids in this film the wannabe activist types we see all over Twitter and Facebook. There’s a whole army of people on the internet who think they can change the world with a few clickity clacks of their keyboards, and when thrust into the actual danger become nothing more than pigs for the slaughter. That, for me, is the bright spot in this film. It’s a shame the gore was so disappointing because seeing whiny college activists bite the big one could have been cathartic. There’s a moment in the movie where the character leading this charge tells them they changed nothing. They only delayed the inevitable by a few days. The deforestation crews will resume their work unabated. That’s a more crushing defeat for these kids than being roasted for dinner. They’re so blinded by their allegiance to the cause that I never really felt they held any anger towards their tormentors. In fact, the film ends with Justine telling what I assume are UN lawyers that the tribe was completely peaceful and that all her friends died in the plane crash alone. It’s a misguided, confusing devotion to a cause that she never really had any reason to be hung up on. It fit perfectly with the kind of slacktavists Roth was skewering.
At the end of the day I can’t recommend this. Sure, it had an interesting idea with the college activist thing, but the gore was uninteresting and the college kids were pretty two dimensional. They were faceless hunks of meat before they ever got to the Amazon. I’ve never seen any of the cannibal flicks that inspired this film, so I can’t speak to whether or not this meets those standards, but if those movies were your jam you will probably get some enjoyment out of The Green Inferno. For me, however, it just doesn’t work.