Is it nostalgia or a psychological quirk that makes Eli Roth start all of his films in the same place? Either he’s incapable of writing a picture without nineteen year-olds or just doesn’t want to, but regardless his latest film picks up right where his prior films have; in college, with college students.
Where The Green Inferno starts off on the wrong foot in comparison to his previous films is that there isn’t a single soul here worthy of a bar conversation or a fun game of beer pong. The students in The Green Inferno aren’t looking for time away from school to enjoy themselves. They’re a group of campus activists taking a trip into the jungles of Peru on a mission to stop the expansion of civilization into the land of a native tribe, and they plan to stop this injustice with the use of masks, chains and camera phones.
These characters aren’t unlikable because they’re college students; they’re unlikable because they’re the most unlikable kind(s) of college student. There’s the obnoxiously ambitious leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy) and our protagonist, Justine (Lorenza Izzo as the only person written to expect, and want, to see alive by the end-credits). Also along for the trip are a gang of secondary horror and comic tropes including the cowardly pothead, the huggable chubs, the disposable girlfriend, and the lesbian lovers. I don’t know if they’re all tropes, but I’m pretty sure you can guess which of these characters will make the plane-ride home.
Fortunately for the activists their plan actually works. The obnoxious leader was right, and live-streaming a company tearing down the natural state of the jungles tree-by-tree was just enough shame to get them to stop working… for about two days before it would no longer be an area of concern for our collective, distracted minds. To be fair, the film does get this part pretty right; and too bad it was this film that did. Likewise, too bad for the characters that it’s about this time that things go wrong for them and when the movie gets where it’s wanted to be all along — in the teeth of the cannibalistic tribe these students were trying to protect.
On the celebration ride home the students’ plane malfunctions and crash-lands in the heart of the Amazon. Only minutes later are they ambushed by skilled air-dart shooters and filthy archers, picking off some of them completely and rendering the others unconscious as they transport them, alive, back to their village. Severed heads and meaty skeletons on sticks greet them on arrival offering the group a gruesome glimpse of what’s in store for them.
From here forward it’s familiar Roth territory, only with blunt teeth instead of power drills and disease. This is also where the single impressive element of the picture begins in the exceptional make-up work and naturalness of the tribe of cannibals. When people die in The Green Inferno they die unforgettably. They die in ways that make you question back-packing or exploring in the same way that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre made you question traveling on anything but a highway. However, the forty-or-so minutes it took to arrive at the village is meaningless. I would have felt the same way about those characters dying if I’d known nothing about them before they were captured by a clan of barbarian cannibals. Two characters were designed to gain my sympathies and their deaths were no more painful to sit through than those of the characters I couldn’t share an elevator ride with.
In fact, I struggle with myself as I point that out as a flaw because it’s me giving in to the laxness of the whole ordeal. It’s my job to want a character to die. It’s the film’s job to show me why I’m wrong. It’s easy to create unlikable people to kill, and after eight years I’d expect that Roth would have found a way for me to not wish ill-will upon his creations. It’s been eight years since Roth got behind the camera to helm a feature-length production, and while he is now eight years older in age he is at least eight years younger in maturity. For fans of his prior work there’s the exact same to like, if not love, about The Green Inferno. Roth didn’t use his time away from the director’s chair to reflect upon life, or grow in his approach to art and I’m sure his most loyal fans and soon-to-be able drinkers wouldn’t have it any other way. The Green Inferno is nothing if not a full plate of “Eli Roth” with extra sauce, and while I can appreciate those fans finding this enjoyable and entertaining…
No, I take it back. I don’t think I can find anything to appreciate about that.
The Upside: Impressive make-up work by Greg Nicotero and co; some truly brutal death scenes that will even leave Hostel fans speechless
The Downside: Poorly written characters with even poorer motivations; first half of the film is a worthless chore; last tenth of the film is unnecessary; middle section is diluted by masturbation and diarrhea
On the Side: The tribal acts of cannibalism are National Geographic accurate, but not to the tribe utilized in the picture. That tribe, actually, had never been shown a motion picture before, and their first exposure to the world of cinema was Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. Supposedly, they thought it was a comedy.