The Green Inferno (2013) (100 minutes)
Directed by Eli Roth.
Written by Guillermo Amoedo and Eli Roth.
Starring Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy and Aaron Burns.
The Green Inferno is the horror director’s homage to the Italian cannibal films of the 1970s and 1980s. Those films, such as Cannibal Holocaust, Make Them Die Slowly and Eaten Alive were in turn influenced by the sub-genre of Mondo films. These films showed actual executions, animal slaughter and other graphic scenes of barbarity. While these movies portrayed indigenous and primitive peoples in an unflattering light, the invading Western protagonists also committed unspeakable acts of violence, leading the audience to wonder who the real savages were. One film in particular, Addio Africa (1966), has to be considered the progenitor of all the cannibal and hostile native movies that followed.
The back story to The Green Inferno is quite engaging. Principal photography took place in Peru and Chile. Director [Eli] Roth used many renowned Peruvian actors in the production and even found a tribe that had limited contact with Westerners. When Roth showed them Cannibal Holocaust to gauge their reactions to the violence and gore, the tribe thought the film was a comedy.
Filming was also problematic, as giant, stinging ants, unpredictable river tides and illness challenged the cast and crew. Roth had worked with many of the actors before on his film Aftershock, including his wife, Lorenzo Izzo. The cast does an admirable job portraying an array of emotions ranging from bravery, cruelty, disorientation, fear and horror.
The film begins with a group of activists planning a trip to South America to disrupt the operations of a multi-national corporation, who are clear-cutting the rainforest and wiping out the indigenous peoples who live there. A college freshman Justine (Izzo) becomes interested in joining the group, suggesting that her father, a prominent attorney for the UN, can help publicize the cause.
The group is funded by a drug dealer, Carlos, who charters a plane to Peru. Armed with only company uniforms, cell phones, chains and padlocks, the group infiltrates one of the de-forestation sites. After chaining themselves to trees and bulldozers the activists are accosted by the private militia of the logging company who threaten to execute Justine. When Alejandro (Ariel Levy) shows the guards he is filming the whole incident and sending a live feed all over the world, they relent and let the activist go, unharmed. Roth does an excellent job in this scene creating a sense of true tension and chaos.
The activists are briefly detained by the authorities, however Carlos bribes the police and they fly out of the jungle- almost. Briefly after take-off, an engine problem sends the plane into a spinning, out of control missile, that just when it rights itself, crash-lands in the jungle. A tree comes through the cockpit turning the pilot’s head into a pile of goo and all aboard are pretty much upset. The group also has the logging company’s duds on, a key plot point.
The gang can’t catch a break as is short turn, a dazed passenger walks into the still spinning propeller, neatly shearing off a fair portion of skull and allowing a goodly amount of brains to spill forth. Another member of the group, who was sucked out of the doomed plane and landed in a treetop, falls to her death. When yet another of the passengers sallies forth, she walks towards some partially obscured people, and has an arrow shot through her throat.
At the same time, the remaining crew has a barrage of blow-darts sent their way, knocking them unconscious. When they awake, all are bound and in boats guarded by indigenous peoples who don’t appear at all friendly. Their destination is a small village, where they are greeted by a throng of villagers, curious to see up close the interlopers. This is the best non-violent scene in the film, as the girls are swarmed by the village women, who run their collective fingers through the girl’s hair and crowd them to the point of near suffocation. The level of fear, paranoia, and claustrophobia is beautifully captured as one truly feels the girls’ predicament.
From this point Roth puts the cannibal in the cannibal movie. I personally thought the blood and guts was rather tame for this type of genre film. There is certainly enough for most gore hounds, but those viewers who relish hardcore entrail munching might be disappointed.
The Green Inferno is not a perfect picture by any means. There a few key plot points that are somewhat weak, and frankly unbelievable. The film is impeccably photographed and establishes a sense of true horror in many scenes. Women are treated poorly in the film, but the men fare no better. The misogyny is considerably toned down from the level of its predecessors, with most of it, quite accurately, deriving from the native culture Roth strives to represent. The ending of the film is handled beautifully and gives a sense of tragedy as well as terror to the movie. Roth has grown as a filmmaker and while horror is his specialty, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him try his hand at a different genre in the future.
In the grand scheme of things, the film accomplishes its goal of being an homage to the Italian cannibal movies of the past. However, I think of this picture as an analogy to Italian food. Think of an order of prosciutto and figs, where the figs were just a bit under ripe. Or tasting your spaghetti carbonara, and finding it lacking, although the origin of its shortcomings are elusive. Finally, you tuck into your vitello al limone, finding all the flavors bright and savory, yet the veal a tad chewy.
Roth has made a credible and honest effort in crafting The Green Inferno. It only lacks a pinch of salt to take it from great to a masterpiece.