Finally Eli Roth’s long-shelved homage to Cannibal Holocaust and other Italian horror flicks from the 70’s and 80’s is here. The Green Inferno follows protagonist Justine (Lorenza Izzo), a young, wealthy Ivy Leaguer and daughter to a United Nations lawyer, as she becomes infatuated with the campus’ social activist group led by the shrewd, snobbish Alejandro (Ariel Levy). The group travels to the Amazon to broadcast deforestation that is leading to the eradication of an indigenous tribe. It may take 45 minutes to get there, but eventually the group’s plane crashes and they are captured by the cannibalistic tribe as all of the trailers suggest.
Roth’s “brand” of horror is on full display here, carrying over the stomach churning gore, visual flourishes, and gag-joke humor from his Hostel days. I’d call it a great midnight exploitation movie, but that would imply relentless schlock and steady shock factor. Instead, Roth seems committed to “developing” these cut-from-the-B-rate-cloth characters for over half of the film’s runtime. Sure, it may lend some shred of credibility to the proceedings, but I found the plodding pace bothersome, heightened further by some pretty dire acting performances from the entire main cast.
This isn’t to say all is lost. Roth creates some stunning images of the red-painted natives clambering down a hill, starkly contrasted against the lush green of the jungle, handheld camera capturing dozens of hands frantically grasping at the captives as they are led to the slaughter. Although I’ve never been opposed to a gleeful bump-in-the-night jump scare, Roth wrings real tension and terror from the sheer horror of his victims’ predicament. It’s an impressive bit of atmosphere building. This isn’t to mention the physical horror – The Green Inferno is for those with strong stomachs only.
Unfortunately much of the terror crumbles when Roth begins indulging in his brand of “humor.” The film loses its sense of stakes when one character blows up the corner of the cage with an extended bit of diarrhea. With the threat of being chopped up or eaten alive looming every minute, these gag-joke moments, which are numerous, jerked me out of the film completely each and every time.
The film’s political undertones are amusing (Roth seems to be taking a pretty ferocious stab at the average “social justice warrior”), but all in all, in a movie as cynical and bleak as The Green Inferno, I expected and needed things to be played a bit straighter than Roth was willing. Everyone becomes a victim at some point. I can appreciate the tongue-in-cheek attitude inherent in exploitation cinema, but I wish Roth had winked at the fact that, “yes, this is just a movie,” as opposed to shouting it from the rooftops by having a character begin masturbating amidst the terror of his situation. There are flashes of horror brilliance here, with sequences of real tension, shock, and edge-of-your-seat suspense, but they’re punctuated far too often by Roth’s self-indulgent sense of humor to amount to a truly satisfying experience.
★★½ out of 5