Eli Roth’s “THE GREEN INFERNO” (TIFF Movie Review)
Six years after HOSTEL PART II and a host of acting and producing gigs later, Eli Roth has finally returned to directing. To celebrate, he came back to TIFF’s Midnight Madness program where he enthusiastically debuted his fourth feature for the first audience outside of the post production crew. As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, it’s a cannibal movie, just like those lovable Italian rapscallions Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi used to make. Though Roth’s fingerprints are all over his addition to the indigestion-favoring genre, he plays true to the form both in terms of the graphic gourmet content and the themes of civility vs. civilization. It’s both throwback and something disturbingly new that is sure to be controversial for some, beloved by others, and impossible for anyone with a weak stomach or bleeding heart to forget.
The film follows a group of lightly satirical college kids (a Roth specialty at this point) who take a trip to the Amazon for good, old fashioned student activism. Their plan is to chain themselves to bulldozers to prevent a jungle from being demolished and their good will is taken advantage of by their sleazy and morally corrupt leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy). Of course, any torment they suffer there feels like nothing once their plane crashes violently into the jungle and they’re kidnapped by the natives they arrive to protect. The movie then segues into the type of vicious cannibal flick you’ve either gagged at with friends or have been too scared to sample. Roth never goes so far as to stage actual animal mutilation like Deodato or Lenzi, but the way his fresh-faced college kids are turned into a main course certainly honors the pioneering gore of those Italian cannibal masters. There is a final girl (Lorenza Izzo) of course, and she’s a great one. But just like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE asked years ago, how much of her will be left is a reasonable question.
While the recent EVIL DEAD remake may have raised the bar for MPAA approved blood-letting, THE GREEN INFERNO doesn’t have supernatural shenanigans or black humor to soften the carnage. Roth never stretches too far into tastelessness, but is as unrelenting as his subgenre demands. Graphic dismemberment, live feasts, ocular attacks, bodies raised on spears through painful orifices, it’s all here. Backed up by the greats at KNB, all of Roth’s slaughter appears painfully real and makes startling impact. The bar for cannibal horror is high and Roth has no problem delivering the goods in a way that will leave viewers stumbling out of the theater. Considering that an entire generation has yet to sample (or even hear about) the Italian cannibal oeuvre, this flick is going to sicken hardened horror fans on release and that’s exactly how it should be.
The movie isn’t just limited to being a gore show however. Roth has always been underrated as a filmmaker just violence and THE GREEN INFERNO plays to all of his strengths. The characters are all finely drawn and well acted before anyone plants a toe into the jungle or a cannibal’s mouth. Self-important student protesters are justifiably mocked, while the way activist groups often take advantage of liberal young students as meat for a political feast is explored quite well too. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST’s sly commentary on how “civilized” people rape and pillage the natural world is often undervalued and that clearly wasn’t lost on Roth when he sat down to write his own take. The film will undoubtedly be criticized by some folks (mostly people who won’t bother to see the movie) in its depiction of natives as flesh eating fright figures. However, those paying attention will notice that the cannibals (portrayed wonderfully by actual indigenous people who had never seen a movie before Roth screened CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, by the way) are presented no less harshly than the sleazy activists or money hungry developers. Everyone is exploiting other people in the movie; the tribe is just behaving as they naturally have for centuries.
Like the HOSTEL movies and to a lesser extent CABIN FEVER, the commentary is there for those who wish to find it, but Roth never batters his audience over the head. If you watch horror for a purely visceral experience, THE GREEN INFERNO delivers. It’s a harsh gut-punch of a horror yarn that makes no concessions for unprepared audiences beyond a little well placed humor. Filmed entirely on location in the jungle, the movie feels uncomfortably realistic at all times with the danger the cast and crew experienced seeping out of the screen. While the opening city scenes might be stylishly shot, once the jungle carnage kicks off Roth and his cinematographer favor handheld intimacy that offers little distance or relief from the terror. It’s not a movie for everyone, but for viewers who don’t mind a little danger in the genre fare, THE GREEN INFERNO is an unforgettable endurance test. Roth hasn’t just returned to directing, he’s reminded us why he was labeled one of the new masters of horror only two titles into his career. It’s a more than worthy revival and entry point to the cannibal horror genre that refuses to be shaken off once you’ve seen it.
Following the midnight premiere, Roth announced that a sequel is already on the way. That’s a pretty bold move, not just because no one knows how successful THE GREEN INFERNO will be, but because he’s done so much right that’s it’s hard to imagine where else to go.