“The Green Inferno” is in a position to make a statement. But it does not. It is additionally primed to shock, disturb and repulse audiences. But it can’t be arsed with those tasks either. Failing to do any of these somewhat noble goals, Eli Roth’s newest matinee horror movie trundles along, delivering shrug-worthy exposition, been-there, done-that gore-splatter and a denouncement so outrageous this reviewer reflexively shouted “What?!” to an utterly empty theater. The responding silence seems entirely appropriate here.
Eli Roth is a curious directorial figure that entered the filmmaking world in 2001 with “Cabin Fever,” a tidy indie horror movie that felt fresh and hip with its gross-out veneer. Roth continued to work in the medium of horror, creating 2005’s “Hostel,” a film that caused New York Magazine’s David Edelstein to coin the now genre-defining phrase “torture porn,” and helped usher in an era of hyper-violent filmmaking. As of lately, Roth seems content to chase his own personal rabbit– the no-budget Italian gore films of the 1970’s, such as “Cannibal Holocaust,” from which the title of “The Green Inferno” is a meta-reference within.
To dispense with the perfunctory plotting, the film, in earnest, opens on the anime-eyed Justine (Lorenza Izzo), a freshman at a New York City college who is introduced to the idea of student protest and social activism when a campus based organization demonstrates a cause which, undoubtedly, is modeled after the very real Custodial Jobs Matter movement American citizens are currently embroiled in.
“Activism is so fucking gay,” sneers Kaycee (Sky Ferreira), Justine’s unnecessarily abrasive roommate. Later the pair attend an anthropology class together and Justine is appalled at the way women’s sexuality is treated in 3rd world countries. A film is undoubtedly an artless wash when the topic of female genital mutilation is simply foreshadowing.
In time, Justine crosses paths with Alejandro (Ariel Levy), the swarthy, dipped in granola activist grandstander who brings the young protagonist into his group. These activists plan to physically protest the bulldozing of a small Peruvian village hidden deep in the jungle, which has heretofore not encountered modern civilization. This crew of usual victim-come-suspects (read: lesbian, stoner, geek, fat guy, etc) assemble and begin to belabor the film’s first act with examples of how they are bad at being eco-terrorists, which is made worse because they are first-world tourists. Luckily for audiences their plane inexplicably crashes into the jungle, and before long pygmy cannibals creep in to blow poison darts at them, a “virtue” of being non-white.
When “The Green Inferno” gets down to the business of slaughtering the ready-made stable of co-ed victims, it fails to thrill, titillate, or shock. For instance, plastic injection-molded bodies are butchered with copious amounts of viscera and slop that, despite all odds, feels restrained. Meanwhile, the head-hunting natives lope about dead-eyed and inscrutable, portrayed about as terrifying as an issue of National Geographic.
As for abstracting the film to the realm of intellectual discourse, it offers little meat (ha!) to pick from the bone. A smarter film would have placed the alliance of the audience on the cannibals side, having played into the stereotype of the obnoxious college student that picks a raison d’être for their activism. Instead, Roth ignores the possibility, giving over to scenes of explosive diarrhea, masturbation, and creepy-crawly bugs approaching genitals.
“The Green Inferno” is a shrug of a film that cannot be bothered to even come close to the zest of originality.
“The Green Inferno”
Running time: 103 minutes
Playing in Theaters Now