The Green Inferno Dir. Eli Roth

[Worldview Entertainment; 2015]

Styles: pop culture reference, gore, black comedy, thriller, horror
Others: Deathproof, World’s Greatest Dad, Stitches, Suicide Club, Black Rock

Sometimes, and really only sometimes, an insatiable love of film (genre or otherwise) can feel indefensible. Life’s too short. Cigarette smoking is self-destructive bullshit, and I can get behind banning it. But film is somehow unassailable, even though it still glamorizes cigarettes to this day, even though it similarly takes time away from life and enables (emboldens, even) passivity and defeatism. I have thrown much of my life away on watching and listening to things that other people make, even going out of my way to watch an entire series whose unchanging formula was: ride motorcycles, kill one another, have a montage, repeat. I have a nice conversation about this stuff, if i’m lucky. Or I’ll write a review that hopefully some people will read. Mostly entertainment just informs further entertainment. It is an insane way to live, and when we catch ourselves doing this, it can scare us into a change of MO or make us go deeper. I have a strong feeling that most horror fans are the ones that hunkered down. It’s as if we said: “I’m going to stay right here and see just how much I can theoretically take from the perspectives of others,” and with horror we are the most off the hook for not taking its theoretical scenarios into practice. But even those of us that live life to its fullest and swear off passivity are likely susceptible to having certain reels of idealized/demonized memory recurring in our heads, not to mention all the specters of dread and anticipation. As long as there is cognizance, all kinds of time wasting will have a place, defensible or not. It’s kinda chilling, really. Wish I could say the same about The Green Inferno.

There are plenty of horror fans that sing the praises of the cannibal films that inspired this one (actually completed back in 2013). I am not one of them. But despite the fact that their artlessness turns me off, I cannot dismiss them. I am helplessly creeping around the same iridescent garbage pile as everyone else. Eli Roth, somewhat similarly to Gaspar Noé, makes films that always put me in an agitated state, yet that I also continually wind up wanting to see (though I feel the less intentional provocations are incrementally becoming the more glaring). Both directors promise shock, and usually deliver. Both are technical pros. Noé has proven groundbreaking at crafting immersive sensual flights (peaking with the darkly hypnotic Enter The Void) while Roth is good at both graphically and psychologically savage horror set pieces. Unlike Noe, however, Roth fails to make anything around those set pieces nuanced or (god forbid!) original enough to make a properly solid movie. In this case, the problem could be having sleazy hacks like Ruggerio Deodato for inspiration. Some films are only compelling for their notoriety rather than their content. As far as I’m concerned Cannibal Holocaust is the preeminent cinematic touchstone of this phenomenon.

It’s strange to watch a film so raw, yet so de-clawed. Each element of his craft & dash; shock, gratingly cynical dark comedy and rigid “I’m just an entertainer” genre template (the score here is in the John Williams mode, rather than something pitched for acute terror) — works against the other. He speaks of Peter Jackson making the move from Dead Alive to Heavenly Creatures with respect to his own shift from Green Inferno to the (currently playing) Keanu Reaves-starring psychodrama, Knock Knock. He is also quoted as calling Green Inferno his “mic drop” on the gore subgenre. Twenty-three years down the road, and the non-stop deluge of Dead Alive’s spatterin’ human viscera still plunks and rings out louder than this or any gore film since. It’s a shame he’s bowing out of the scene, as there is a sort of lean sadistic acuity to his key sequences that’ve led me to believe he could make something the fine-tuned caliber of the toweringly fearsome 2007 shocker, Inside. Instead, we have a seasoned yet still precocious director with more delusional self-importance than imagination. He’s said he went further into the jungle than Herzog did for Aguirre. That’s great, but if he had just a pinch of that director’s vision, this might be something actually worth bragging about and not just another film geek point grab. Ideally in horror, scaring people should always be a new science (It Follows made a valiant effort), and bodily harm/dismemberment is a natural element of fear even if we often laugh and pretend its fun. We should choke on our nervous laughter. We should feel like we’ve been through something. Green Inferno was too busy framing itself as pop or polemic to be a well constructed thrill ride.

Watching the tribe prepare and feast on their obnoxious captives is a routine, bucolic scene, no matter how convincingly the yet-to-be-eaten moan. We can feel the same peace that one would transitioning from the squeal-filled slaughterhouse to the brookside picnic on the farm. Children are underfoot, passive words are exchanged. The way it doesn’t just play as gallows humor shows how enduringly matter-of-fact human beings are. Some live their whole lives and never get to be of any use. At least they could be a meal for somebody. So while there is some basic suspense, what was more surprising was the feeling of apathy. There is a chase sequence wherein a fleeing character gets sucked into the river and is forced to swim against a raging current. Occurring in the film’s final third, it is one of those scenes that though it was reportedly harrowing and arduous to construct, completely slows things to a visual crawl when the film should be ramping up. Elsewhere hair-brained escape plans are formed and the group’s leader reveals himself to be more and more of a repulsive fraud. Basically a lot of tone-deaf filler happens, and here we had a chance to explore a different side of cannibalism without the usual urbane foodiegasm angle that was corny from the moment Thomas Harris came up with it back in ‘88 (though this approach is somewhat redeemed in the finale to Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover).

As to the outrage over this film, I really wish people wouldn’t fuel Roth’s “eviscerating critique” posturing by latching on to the worst possible audience reaction. The truth is that this is a progressive (if failed) film at heart. Despite the requisite final girl (a solid turn from Aftershock’s Lorenza Izzo), and some passable mugging from the rest of the activists, the most charismatic performances come from the tribe (even when it’s just acting stoned). Wardrobe and actors (Ramon Llao and Antonieta Pari’s screen presences as the tribal leaders are easily the most impactful aspects of this movie) came together and did something more eyepopping than the actual eye popping. I wanted to know more about them. I picked up very little sadism and more of an exuberant passion for ritual. There is a lot of room for interpretation as to what drives or doesn’t drive their actions. Whereas the captives were a tedious mix of archetype and playing against archetype, having their own lil’ raunchy frat house comedy in their thatched purgatory. They were impossible to care about and written as though they were in a sketch. The outrage shouldn’t be over stereotyping native tribal people as bloodthirsty cannibals, but making that their defining characteristic, and crassly shoving it through the timely prism of white privilege hating itself. A bit of dark humor that Roth only hinted at, is that cannibals are potentially the most humble, conservational humans of all. They kill with the reverence that Benicio Del Toro’s character speaks of in The Hunted. For the ostensibly more civilized, on the other hand, it’s just like a satiated man stomping on all the ants in his picnic area.

We don’t ever get to fully explore these notions beyond pithy punchlines cause Roth’s a businessman first and foremost. And his market seems largely made up of people who wanna see the same tropes rolled out over and over till they lose interest (i.e. — age out of target range) or die. On top of things, this prized demo seems to wanna choke the market with so much bet-hedged, cannibalized (the real evil cannibalism is proverbial) fodder that future generations will never get the chance to have a revitalizing mold-breaker of their own. This is where the offence mostly lies for this viewer. Suggesting that there are tribes of cannibals in the wilds of the Amazon (apparently, there aren’t) is not racist; judging people for how they choose to survive/thrive as a separate entity from civilization as we know it is what’s worth challenging. And Roth doesn’t do that. There is no real controversy here. Just another hyped-up mayhem train that never stays on the tracks long enough to get anywhere worth getting one’s dander up about. It is correct in going after hash-tag slacktivism, but so the hell what? We got South Park and a million other trenchant TV satires for that. “Fear will consume you” is the tagline they went with, but “Rich, entitled people are out there, and they’re hungry for change. Perhaps we should have them for dinner!” would be more tonally appropriate. I was stomach-churningly scared of going (particularly alone) to this film. As it turns out, the big bad Green Inferno was little more than a Crypt Keeper-esque trifle that reminded me of why I’m fine with Hannibal getting cancelled.

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