The Green Inferno (2013)
Cannibal Holocaust was one of the most controversial movies of the early 1980s. Ruggero Deodato pops up in Eli Roth's Hostel 2 as one of the rich guys who, surprise, is seen eating the victim that he has tortured. Since Eli Roth is such a fan of Deodato, Cannibal Holocaust and Umberto Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox, it's no surprise that he finally got around to doing his own version.
Other than the fake trailer for Thanksgiving from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's 2007 Grindhouse, not much had been seen or heard from Roth since Hostel 2 - at least not from behind the camera. Being friends with Tarantino paid off, as he got a substantial role in Inglourious Basterds, and spent some more time acting in a number of low-budget films. It was a surprise in 2015 when we suddenly got two new films from him, The Green Inferno and Knock Knock.
The Green Inferno had actually been finished in 2013, but financial problems with its distributor kept it from a major release until 2015. It had a bit of promotion behind it, but for some reason Roth failed to bring back the cannibal craze and make it mainstream. What he did succeed at is making his best, and most coherent, film.
Justine (Lorenza Izzo) and her roommate Kaycee (Sky Ferreira) are attending a university in New York, and are becoming increasingly irritated by a number of activists that are protesting, even on the weekends. When Justine speaks up during a lecture on female circumcision, classmate Jonah (Aaron Burns) asks her to join the activists for a meeting. She does so, but quickly falls into disfavor with their leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy). She is also not welcomed too warmly by Alejandro's girlfriend Amy (Kirby Bliss Blanton).
The next move the activists plan is to protect an isolated tribe in the Peruvian Amazon from encroaching developers who want to exploit the area for natural gas exploration. The plan is to fly in, confront the paid militia the company has protecting its interests and broadcast it on social media. The entire trip is financed by Carlos (Matias López), a shady millionaire.
The group arrives at the site and chains themselves to trees and bulldozers. Only Justine's padlock doesn't work, and she is removed by the head of the militia and threatened at gunpoint. The militia backs down once the scene goes viral and the activists are briefly arrested until Carlos pays off the local police. Everything seems fine, and the group begins to celebrate their victory. However, their plane develops engine trouble and crashes, killing the pilot, Carlos and a number of the activists. The ones who survive are soon set upon by natives. Amy is killed, while Justine, Alejandro, Jonah, Daniel (Nicolás Martínez), Lars (Daryl Sabara) and girlfriends Kara (Ignacia Allamand) and Samantha (Magda Aponowicz) are all darted and transported back to the village.
Upon arrival, most of the group is caged. Jonah is taken to a rock by the village elder (Atonieta Pari) and, with the aid of black-painted bald headhunter (Ramon Llao), is ritually dismembered, killed, and prepared as a feast for the village. Kara then tries to escape, but is tranquilized again by a dart for her efforts. Alejandro informs the group that it is better that they stay where they are, as the militia and the company will be there within three days. It turns out Carlos was the head of a rival company, and the plan, rather than saving the villagers, was to delay his competition so he could exploit the resources.
The girls are taken before the elder, and each one is given a test to see if she is a virgin. Justine is the only one that passes, and she is drugged, taken to a hut and covered in ritual markings before being returned to the cage. She does manage to make one friend among the villagers: a young girl (Tatiana Panaifo) who shows interest in her.
Samantha decides that instead of waiting she will try to escape. The guard (Percy Chumbe) is distracted by the ringing of one of their smartphones, and Samantha makes it to a boat. However, later, when the group is fed what they think is pork, Kara finds some of Samantha's skin, with an intact tattoo, in her bowl. She also sees villagers, including children, wearing pieces of her lover's skin. Distraught, she slits her throat. Knowing that the tribe will eat the body, Lars stuffs the remainder of some weed he got from Carlos down her throat, hoping that the villagers will get high once they eat her. The plan works, allowing Justine and Daniel to escape, but Alejandro sticks a dart in Lars's leg to make sure he is not left alone to be eaten. His plan works, as Lars is dragged out and eaten alive.
Justine and Daniel make it back to the crash site and try to retrieve a satellite GPS tracker, and find the bodies that were left at the plane impaled on posts. The GPS is out of power, and the two are recaptured before they can charge it. Daniel, for his part in the escape, is put up on a pole and left to be eaten by ants, while Justine is prepared for a clitoridectomy.
A main bone of contention with Cannibal Holocaust was a number of animal killings that were done for real, and really for no other reason than to call attention to the film. It wasn't the only film around that time that featured such killings, but it was the one that set the trend. Rest assured that is one of the cannibal exploitation trope The Green Inferno avoids.
And while the original cannibal movies often had subtext about how quickly civilized beings become savage once again, this is more about the dangers of self-serving bandwagon jumping when it comes to truly important causes, as well as the error of imposing your own societal values on others. Justine is the daughter of a U.S. representative to the United Nations, and idealistically thinks that female genital mutilation can just go away if we tell people not to do it and throw our weight around. She doesn't believe when her father informs her that it is more complicated, and that it takes generations to change traditions. Unfortunately, she ends up finding that out first-hand.
Since Eli Roth decided to drag everyone out to the Amazon, and even employ a local tribe both as actors and crew, he got what he could out of the location. He has obviously learned quite a bit from working with Quentin Tarantino, and adapts a semi-documentary film style while in the village, while other times using his setting to full effect. Since some of the old cannibal films were the ancestors of today's found footage craze, I was expecting more of that. Instead, it is a regular movie, with no tricks to make it seem like it's a snuff film.
That doesn't mean this won't be hard going if you are squeamish about dismemberment, mutilation and cannibalism. Gregory Nicotero, who does the special effects for The Walking Dead, doesn't hold back on trying to make everything look as real as possible.
Of course, there are some of the usual weird Eli Roth quirks. Nothing quite so outrageous as the "Pancakes!" karate kid or the reincarnation of Madame Bathory, but I can find nowhere, and I cannot understand in anyway how, you can get high from stuffing marijuana in a dead body and then cooking it. I know typically with animals the stomach is removed and the lining typically used as an ingredient itself, or (in the case of haggis) as a sausage casing. You can't properly dress meat without removing the innards before cooking. The whole idea, and the what happens to Lars in the end, is one of those weird asides Roth just can't help.
This movie isn't big on name actors, with Lorenza Izza being about the biggest acting name. She is strikingly, and frustratingly, naive, but by the end has learned a thing or two from Alejandro about how to play the PR game. Sky Ferreira is a singer rather than an actor, and her scenes make that quite obvious as her line delivery is horrible. I am glad Kaycee stays behind, as that would have added nothing. Ariel Levy plays Alejandro as a real piece of garbage, while all the others play their parts well.
This especially goes for the members of the Callanayucu tribe, none of whom were trained actors, with most of them never even seeing a movie before. Roth did play Cannibal Holocaust for them so they would get an idea of what he was trying to do, and they found it hilarious. Though far from what is portrayed in the movie, it is obvious they had fun with their roles.
I do have my problems with Eli Roth, especially since he comes across as a bit of a "bro." Still, though his films have not been perfect, they have always had parts in them that made the whole thing great in the end. With The Green Inferno he finally found his niche. We'll see where he goes from here.
The Green Inferno (2013)
Time: 100 minutes
Starring: Lorenza Izzo, Sky Ferreira, Ariel Levy, Ramon Llao, Antonieta Pari
Director: Eli Roth