One of mainstream America’s torture porn pioneers has come up with a cannibal movie which, in its own ruthless way, passes itself off as an effective piece of schlock. Mark Fraser ponders a recent work by a director whose movies he usually tries to avoid.
It would be a tad simplistic to say the films of Eli Roth are merely exploitative and excessive. After all, what should one expect from a writer/director who seems content to wallow in brutal violence and painful torture? Because of its penchant for explicit gore and cruel human suffering, it’s pretty easy – and perhaps sometimes a little too convenient – to dismiss Roth’s body of work as pure exploitation, even when it attempts to validate its dubious credentials by adopting some shaky moral high ground.
In most instances, this conclusion is reasonably defensible given many of the violent moments in the filmmaker’s hideous oeuvre don’t seem to contain much in the way of redeeming social value. With an attitude that borders on the profane, Roth’s cinema is usually nothing more than sadistically gratuitous and cynically self-serving. Having said this, it can also be reasonably confronting in a pseudo-legitimate sense – as shown in his 2013 horror schlocker The Green Inferno.
Not only is this a film of remarkable economy, but it works as a not-too-subtle, irony-clad cautionary tale about the assuaging of Western (read white) guilt for the capitalist gutting of the Third World. True – the movie is chock full of clichés and its straight forward plot-by-numbers narrative runs like clockwork. It is, however, tightly-paced and effectively told.
If anything, The Green Inferno is one of the neatest and most colourful-looking pieces of cannibal cinema ever offered for audience consumption, avoiding many of the rough edges found in its infamous Italian counterparts of the 1970s. And while its view of the world is unsurprisingly bleak, the film also manages to speak from a legitimate political platform, albeit during a somewhat simplistic and bitchy one-way dialogue which is infused with moral ambivalence.
Oddly, Roth’s usual disdain for his (predominantly young) cast of characters strangely works to the movie’s advantage as it follows a group of well-intentioned US college students that embarks on a mission to Peru to protest the logging of the Amazonian rainforest before literally falling into the lap of a tribe of hungry cannibals.
Never once does the viewer feel any real sympathy for this collective of misled rich kids, whose members pretty much get what they deserve – especially after discovering (way, way too late) the folly of their quest. This is a handy state of mind to be in when the slaughter starts as it effectively helps dumb down the impact of the awful screen violence, during which eyes are pocked out of their sockets, a tongue is cut from the mouth of one of the hapless victims, limbs get hacked off, throats are slit and burnt flesh is peeled (using primitive cutting utensils) from the cooked corpses. There’s even a zombie-like flesh ripping scene after the savages literally get the munchies and start biting their way into a live captive, a moment that no doubt will impress fans of George A Romero and Tom Savini.
To his credit, Roth manages to cram quite a bit into the first half of the movie, which culminates in the briefest of protest scenes before the cast is herded by the authorities into a possibly booby-trapped light aircraft that inadvertently delivers them to their primitive jungle hosts.
Pointless student activism, female genital mutilation, upper class smugness, youth naiveté, corruption, greed, the environmental destruction of the Third World by corporate interests, Latin American drug dealing and poverty, the impact of the Internet and social media – all of these topics are briefly touched upon as New York university undergraduate (and, as it happens, the daughter of a UN attorney) Justine (Lorenzo Izzo) gets suckered into going to Peru to take part in a live-streamed act of rebellion.
Accompanying her is the usual cast of highly disposable characters, including the infatuated fat guy Jonah (Aaron Burns), the wise cracking geek Lars (Daryl Sabara), the bearded and resilient Daniel (Nicolas Martinez), the sensitive vegan Amy (Kirby Bliss Banton) and the athletic Samantha (Magda Apanowicz).
Meanwhile, leading this ill-fated crew of agitators is Alejandro (Ariel Levy) – who eventually turns out to be the true villain of the piece – and his girlfriend Kara (Ignacia Allamand), whose fate is quickly sealed when she is the first to be needlessly speared by the restless natives just after the plane comes down.
When all is said and done The Green Inferno is not a great movie – nor is it a particularly good one when put under various critical spotlights. But while none of the performances are outstanding, they are adequate. And although the film lacks a sense of humour (it fails, for instance, to deliver any outstanding or memorable lines of dialogue) this doesn’t mean it isn’t perversely funny.
Most of the time the “jokes” are made at the expense of the characters who are routinely humilitated (Jonah vomits back into his face when the plane goes out of control; Amy has a distressingly loud bout of diarrhea after being locked in the cage with the others) before being killed off.
There is, however, one moment of inspired originality when the prisoners ram a small bag of marijuana down a fresh corpse’s throat in the hope the natives will get stoned by the pot smoke and pass out.
Also, though glaringly obvious, the movie’s ironic overtures remain reasonably intact throughout the uncomplicated narrative as mapped out by Roth and his co-writer Guillermo Amoedo. And, despite its sense of moral ambivalence and moments of pure trash, The Green Inferno stays on track throughout its 90 minute running time. This in itself should be considered a minor achievement. Another thing worth repeating is the fact the movie is nowhere near as cheesy as practically all of its Italian counterparts.
Some of Antonio Quercia’s digital videography, for instance, is pretty snazzy (particularly the overhead shots of both the jungle and the Peruvian town from which the hapless students start their journey), while the film also boasts two of the most menacing flesh eaters (Antonieta Pari and Ramon Llao) ever to have appeared in this peculiar genre. If anything, The Green Inferno looks and feels like a proper cannibal movie.
While non-gore fans may find some of the film’s violence abhorrent or distasteful, they should really start accepting the fact that this cinematic level of bloodletting is quickly becoming mainstream. Given this, don’t be surprised if Roth’s director’s cut of The Green Inferno makes it unfettered to free-to-air television by the end of the decade.
And why shouldn’t it? After all, this is where it truly belongs.
Words by Mark Fraser
Directed by: Eli Roth
Written by: Eli Roth
Starring: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Sky Ferreira
Country: USA / IMDB
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