“Don’t think. Act.”
Co-writer/director Eli Roth did not use this method when directing the cast of The Green Inferno. Instead, actress (?) Sky Ferreira utters the line as she mocks (?) a college campus group. There are many questions surrounding this particular performance, seeing as how I can’t recall vacant line reads on this level since Tara Reid graced the screen in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. No question about that. More about Ms. Ferreira later, but first the chimes of social justice lead us towards more pressing issues. Well, that’s what Roth tries to sell us on, yet fails on every level. When directed away from the pain and admittedly effective use of violence, The Green Inferno turns into an unintentional laugh riot. U.S. policy and Eli Roth do not mix.
Those laughs start pretty early on in Roth’s latest. We meet Justine (Lorenza Izzo) and her roommate Kaycee (Ferreira) in their college dorm room, awoken by student protests taking place just outside their window. The protests are led by the driven and good-lookin’ Alejandro (Ariel Levy), and Justine is intrigued to say the very least. Kaycee isn’t on the same page, but again it’s tough to tell what page Ferreira is on. Maybe it’s somewhere in the pages Justine’s copy of Moby Dick, where she keeps the flute necklace her mother gave her. If you don’t think this figures into the plot later on, best of luck with everything.
After a long, tedious, half hour that proves utterly pointless, Justine joins the protest group as they embark upon a trip to the Amazon to protest and film a corporation that is cutting down trees and moving in on land occupied by a special tribe. They are special because they are cannibals. Do you see where this is going? Bad things start to happen, undercut by the same lighting schemes that cost Roth’s other 2015 film, Knock Knock, a real sense of terror.
Studio bankruptcy prevented Roth’s latest from getting its original 2014 release date, which meant it would have premiered a year after debuting at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Two long years between now and then before Blumhouse Productions saved the day by picking up the film and pumping it out in theaters. The result is a cannibal movie that wants to be something more. In an interview with Defamer, Roth says the following, “You tweet something and people go fucking crazy. And that is this culture of these social justice warriors. It’s so easy to do it. You can just go crazy pushing buttons on your phone and it’s so much easier to do that than to look into it. There’s always more than one side to a story.”
He makes a fair point. We do live in attack mode, whether a comment or act deserves it or not. However, the story he tells in The Green Inferno to try and show some perspective is a failure. As the natives tear out one protester’s eyes and tongue, chop him apart and eat him, I still sympathize with the “social justice warrior,” who is a very sympathetic character. When a man is eaten by deadly ants or torn apart by the tribe because they have the munchies (don’t ask), I can’t help but think that these “social justice warriors” are not the villains of the piece. It’s the natives who are eating people alive and laughing about it! A heavy-handed message doesn’t work when you have to sift through diarrhea, masturbation, and arguably the worst post-credits scene ever.
If cannibal horror is your bag, seek out Cannibal Holocaust instead — the 1970s Italian movie that inspired The Green Inferno. There are several references to that film spread throughout Inferno, from the title (which is the name of the documentary being filmed within Holocaust) to humans impaled on poles. Roth decides to show multiple people propped up this way as opposed to the Holocaust’s single person, but that’s highly indicative of where horror is today: the attitude of “more means more” when it really equates to less.
The mind boggles at what The Green Inferno could have been had it just started with the protesters already taken. There would be no needless extended prologue with a disturbingly blank Ferreira and Justine’s United Nations-employed father, who wears nice suits with blue ties, utilizes his blue tooth, and knows his way around a laptop. There would be a harder limit on annoying behavior and dialogue (there is a scene early on between a love-struck protester and Justine that feels right out of The Room).
If only this was the case, because the first death in Inferno hits us hard when it happens — unrelenting with quick cuts to let the mind imagine the worst just before showing us the gory horrors of the situation. Roth knows how to create effective horror sequences, dating all the way back to the disease-riddled Cabin Fever and sleazy masochism of Hostel. Unfortunately, with this year’s Knock Knock and now The Green Inferno, Roth seems to have forgotten how to create a good horror movie.