Eli Roth Paints the Jungles Red with The Green Inferno
The Green Inferno
Review by Daniel Rester
At one point in writer-director Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno a man is chopped into multiple pieces in graphic detail and then fed to people in a cannibalistic tribe. Four audience members walked out of my theater shortly after that and I never saw them come back in. It seems like “Splat Pack” filmmaker Roth hasn’t lost his touch for delivering shocking gore, for better or worse depending on who you are.
The long-delayed Green Inferno – it had some distribution issues last year – marks Roth’s return to the director’s chair for a feature film for the first time since 2007’s abysmal Hostel: Part II. Despite my hate for that film, Roth had some intense and interesting – if not fully successful – ideas in his previous films Cabin Fever (2003) and Hostel (2006), so I was mildly looking forward to Green Inferno. Like most of Roth’s work, I walked out with mixed feelings.
The film involves a college student named Justine (Lorenza Izzo, Roth’s wife in real life) joining a group of student activists on a journey to the Amazon. Their goal is to film forestry companies destroying lands, which in turn forces certain natives away. While attempting to save the lands and the natives, the activists’ plane goes down and they are soon captured by the very tribes they went to assist. The kicker: the natives turn out to be a group of blood-thirsty cannibals.
Green Inferno is a strange beast. Fans of graphic horror will likely love it, and I could recommend it to them. But casual viewers will not find much here to win them over to the side of Roth if they are not already behind him. From a filmmaking perspective it is simply a mixed bag.
While Roth’s picture is far from being a great horror film, there are still some qualities about it that make it better than the usual dreck that crowds the horror genre these days. First of all, the use of actual locations in the Amazon combined with expert cinematography by Antonio Quercia gives Green Inferno an unexpected beauty in certain images and an air of authenticity at times. It’s nice to get a horror film with grittiness — and nature beauty — from the environments as well instead of just from the situations at hand.
Quercia and Roth deliver a lot of clear shots and use the environments skillfully in presenting the mise en scene, while Ernesto Diaz Espinoza provides a smooth flow in the editing department. The film has a lot of wide shots, but it also takes advantage of queasy close-ups in order to give a docu-drama feel at times; this is probably as a nod to the film Cannibal Holocaust (1980).
The makeup effects by Ozzy Alvarez and Jonah Levy are also top-notch. Almost every gory scene is uncomfortably believable in terms of the blood and guts, while the casual makeup on the native characters rings realistic as well. Roth and company seem to use practical effects and subtle CGI so well that when the obvious CGI does show up – like in a scene involving ants – it is completely distracting.
While the technical side of things is fine, it’s Roth decisions as a storyteller that are more hit-and-miss. Roth is strong at coming up with horror situations that are quite nail-biting at times. Green Inferno actually has some of the most tense scenes I’ve seen in any film this year, and that’s a credit to Roth’s style in ways. He also has some fun with poking jokes at activist groups; this is especially true in how he handles a character named Alejandro (Ariel Levy), a hypocritical leader in the group of travelers. Some will see the way Roth handles the native characters as offensive and maybe even racist in ways, but he does make the tribe feel real in terms of using them in the story – down to showing how they naturally act when just sitting about like it’s a normal day.
Where Roth goes wrong is with his dialogue and characters, which have never been his strong suit. The audience barely even gets to know the names of some of the characters before they start getting killed off, so it makes it hard to care about them when those times come. It’s also harder to care when the characters are spouting stupid dialogue and not doing much at all for the first forty minutes or so of the film. A good amount of character development could have happened in that time, but instead it’s mostly reserved for basic storytelling methods.
The biggest issue I have with Green Inferno, though, is when Roth tries to inject humor into certain scenes and it just doesn’t work at all for the overall tone of the film. I understand that a little humor is fine for films like this as a way to release tension. However, Roth uses situations involving diarrhea, masturbation, getting high, and having the munchies that just come across as awkward and annoying. Each time it happens, too, it completely deflates the intensity of the scenes and makes things cringe-worthy.
The acting in Green Inferno is mediocre-to-bad from start to finish, though Izzo is actually pretty decent in the lead role. Again though, the dialogue and characters are never too interesting, so it is hard to put all of the blame on the actors. It is humorous and welcome, however, to see Spy Kids (2001) actor Daryl Sabara pop up in a role as a stoner named Lars — and he actually makes the character somewhat likable.
Roth’s exploitative Green Inferno isn’t particularly deep with its ideas, but it should get audiences thinking a little bit about activism, cultural differences, etc., which is more than many other horror films have going for them. It also packs a hard R-rated punch with certain scenes of gore that will leave some audience members terrified and/or disgusted. It’s Roth’s fearlessness here and he and Quercia’s Herzogian eye of the jungle that keeps things from totally falling apart. I can’t fully write off Green Inferno since I did admire some aspects of it, but I will say that anyone who doesn’t have the stomach for seeing people getting cut up or hearing dialogue involving the topic of female genital mutilation should stay far away from the film.
My Grade: C+ (on an F to A+ scale).
Viewing Recommendation: Skip It, Wait for Cable, Wait for Blu-ray Rental/VOD, See It at Matinee Price, Worth Full-Price Theater Ticket
MPAA Rating: R (for aberrant violence and torture, grisly disturbing images, brief graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use).
Runtime: 1 hour and 40 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: September 25th, 2015.