Before “The Green Inferno” made its LA debut at AFI Fest, director Eli Roth came on stage and asked us to clear our minds of any preconceived notions we might have had of the film. The idea was to cleanse ourselves of any assumptions that might have been made in lieu of marketing or advertisement. I did as I was asked and, as I left the theater, I felt that my assumptions had only been partially right.
“The Green Inferno” is the latest film from director Eli Roth who has been absent from the director’s chair since 2007’s “Hostel: Part 2″. At it’s core, this film is Roth’s love letter to the cannibal films of yesteryear like “Cannibal Holocaust”. The film centers around a group of idealistic college students setting off to save a small Amazon tribe from being pushed out of their village by a greedy corporation looking to get at the oil fields the natives live on. When their plane crashes, though, the students are captured by the cannibalistic tribe and placed on the village menu.
Though the film’s main attraction is the cannibalistic action, it spends a bit of time getting to that point. We’re given the chance to learn a little about the college students before they meet their grisly fate and while some might find this to be a slow start, I appreciated the introduction. In previous Eli Roth films, I found that I never really cared for or enjoyed the characters we were given. They mostly served as bags of meat to be poked and prodded.
In “The Green Inferno”, the characters were slightly more endearing and I only found myself actively rooting for one to die. That being said, these aren’t well rounded or deeply fleshed out individuals. If I told you that there was a “friendly chubby guy” or a “funny stoner dude”, you’d probably be able to paint a picture in your mind that would accurately capture these people. These aren’t the type of characters you’ll have imprinted on your memory, but you’ll sort of care when their lives are in danger. Their motivations and interactions also help to give levity to the film in the midst of all the dark elements that surround it.
I will admit, though, that there is one character who is masterfully written and portrayed. However, I don’t want to say who they are lest I spoil the surprise of their rapid descent into total cartoon villainy. It’s clear that Eli Roth and co-writers Nicolas Lopez and Guillermo Amoedo did everything they could to make this individual as despicable as possible. I was initially put off with how absurdly bad this character was, but came around to loving them during a scene involving masturbation. Yeah, I can’t believe I wrote that either. However, the scene is so vile and insane, that you realize this character is the penultimate douchebag from which all other douchebags are formed. This realization made me love them when, by all indications, I should have despised them.
More than anything else, I’m sure people want to know what sort of gore to expect from this film. When you think about what Eli Roth did in films like “Hostel”, you might make the assumption that a film about cannibals would take things to a whole new level. In actuality, I thought this was a much more subdued film.
There certainly is gore and violence, but it wasn’t as grotesque or unsettling as it was in “Hostel”. I always felt those films were freak shows with Eli Roth trying as hard as he could to disturb his audience. There’s only one scene where I felt the film was being over the top with it’s gore and that involved a cannibal plucking out someone’s eyeballs and slowly eating them for the camera. Otherwise, the violence is sudden, impactful, and not overly drawn out. In fact, some of it happens off screen, but we’re given enough visual information to let our imagination fill in the brutal details.
I did feel that the film came dangerously close to crossing a line I wasn’t personally comfortable with, but it thankfully diverged from an extremely dark path. It’s a scene that’ll probably get a lot of mixed reactions and I’m curious to see what other critics and horror fans will have to say about it. The whole sequence left me gripping my armrest and squirming in my chair.
As someone who thought “Hostel” was a test in endurance and patience, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed “The Green Inferno”. It’s a worthy tribute to films like “Cannibal Holocaust” while being it’s own landmark in cannibal cinema. Though he’s doing a lot of producing as of late, it would seem as if Eli Roth has continued to learn and grow as a filmmaker. His film isn’t any less visceral than his previous works, but it is a much more refined and focused production. Fans of previous Eli Roth films will almost certainly love this one, but I think it’s the people who don’t enjoy his films that might be in for the biggest surprise.