Eli Roth doesn’t beat around the bush. When he wants to make a statement, social commentary, he certainly doesn’t hold back. The horror genre serves him well, and you can tell how much glee he takes in paying homage to classics in his own films. He’s extremely well versed in grindhouse horror, and seems to enjoy the exploitation angle very much.
That couldn’t be more obvious than in his film, “The Green Inferno”, which is a title taken from the 1980 cannibal classic, “Cannibal Holocaust”. In the 70’s and 80’s there was a run on this disgusting sub-genre. Many were pretty awful, but I always thought “Cannibal Holocaust” had more to say than just being a gross out film. It also was one of the first “found footage films”, a concept that would make its way into the 21st century as a favorite sub-genre for modern horror filmmakers.
Roth’s “The Green Inferno” is not shot as found footage. It is a linear film that follows the story of a group of college students, environmental activists, who are trying to preserve a little known tribe in the jungles of the Amazon. Most of these characters are purposely written as either throwaways, or as extreme examples of 99%’ers. In many cases, you’re almost looking forward to their deaths.
It begins with a female student, Justine (Lorenza Izzo), observing a hunger protest. The protesters are led by a charismatic Latin American named Alejandro (Ariel Levy). He’s serious about his work, and rebuffs her after she makes a remark about an upcoming protest they have planned in Peru. They want to stop a government construction that will destroy part of the rain forest, and will negatively impact a tribe that lives among the forest. The tribe has never been caught on camera and has rarely been seen. Justine is kicked out of the group at first, but convinces Alejandro that her intentions are genuine and she was just making a joke. He believes there is nothing funny about activism.
Their protest involves capturing the destruction of the forest, along with a militia hired by the government to protect the workers–they’re obviously armed, and would kill intruders, including the tribe. Alejandro’s plan is to video record the destruction, tying themselves up against trees and pointing out what the Peruvian government is doing–then making the video go viral. Justine has a father that works as an attorney for the United Nations, and that comes in handy for them. He is against her going, along with her friend Kaycee (Sky Ferreira), who thinks the idea is stupid and dangerous.
But, Justine does indeed go, and nearly instantly regrets it, when she realizes that Alejandro may be hard to trust. His girlfriend Kara (Ignacia Allamand) is also catty, and doesn’t seem to like Justine’s presence much at all.
This is all firmly confirmed when they perform the protest, only for poor Justine to be singled out and nearly shot in the head by one of the militia. Because they believe in the potential fallout from the violence, they spare her. But Alejandro and Kara seem to want a sacrifice, believing it’ll strengthen their cause.
From this point on, Justine wants nothing to do with any of this. The one friend she has (and one of the few other likable characters), Jonah (Aaron Burns), tries to convince her that this was all for a greater good.
Then, their plane crashes on their way back.
The few remaining survivors are captured by the tribe–and guess what? They’re not so friendly. They are, indeed cannibals, and they spare no time making one of the poor kids part of their dinner plans.
From there on, we get a lot of gore. Eli Roth really pours it on and doesn’t flinch at all. It’s hard to watch at times, and even harder to listen to–but Roth knows his audience. You have to have a strong constitution, and a bit of a sick sense of humor, to enjoy his work.
There are moments early on of genuine humor, pacifying the foreboding notion that things are going to get ugly. Then, there are times where Eli Roth dares you to laugh. Some of these moments don’t hit their mark and come off as inappropriate and immature. When they hit, however, it’s great social satire.
And that’s what this exercise really is about. Sure, the tribe is full of cannibals and their thirst for human meat is pretty sickening to us. But, like it or not, that’s their nature. It’s what they do. They aren’t conscious of the fact that civilized people see it as wrong. The tribe leader is a woman, which I found interesting, and picks Justine to be some sort of special sacrifice because they discover she’s a virgin. Justine’s genuine fear, and Izzo’s believable acting, brings us further into caring about her. And that’s really key–because most of this is watching very annoying, obnoxious characters, die in horrible ways. And sometimes, emptying their bowels uncontrollably in the process.
On the other hand, Alejandro represents the very conscious “crusader” who comes off as manipulative, selfish, and scheming. So who’s the real monsters here?
It’s a bit obvious, and Eli Roth is very short on subtlety–but the point is still a strong one. These “activists” come off as hypocritical and shallow, selfish and completely ignorant.
And the message is clear: we don’t need to get involved in every single little scuffle, putting ourselves in the middle of something we don’t belong in. Especially when the intentions aren’t even really good ones, or altruistic ones. Justine finds that out the hard way.
Comparatively, we have it pretty easy.