Now that we can all finally see it, Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno is going to end up being a kind of litmus test among horror fans.
After a two year delay, the movie opened fairly wide this weekend.
With festival screenings happening sporadically over those two-plus years, there have been plenty of opportunities to hear what people think. But grapevine word has been hopelessly mixed.
I didn’t much trust any of the opinions I was hearing, good or bad. The negative reviews sounded mostly like they were coming from Roth detractors and the positive reactions seemed to be praising the film’s unabashed gorehound roots.
To the people who dislike Roth: that’s not really an opinion I understand. I can see being mixed on some of his other films, but who in their right mind doesn’t like Hostel Part 2? And the blackshirts who would give a movie a pass by measuring onscreen blood in fluid ounces…eh, not really my barometer.
So I was going into this one blind. Haven’t even seen a second of footage, as I’ve avoided all clips and trailers (no easy feat when you stretch a film’s release out for years).
To end the suspense: The Green Inferno is my jam. I enjoyed it a lot, even more so as I think about it.
In interviews, Roth has recently begun re-branding the movie as a response to “hashtag-activism”/“slacktivism” (I’m using quotes because the people who use those terms as slurs often end up being more obnoxious than their targets).
Roth may be selling a few extra tickets with that kind of talk but he’s actually underselling the surprisingly nuanced set-up that gets our characters stuck behind cannibal-lines.*
Where the default moral setting for the cannibal films of the seventies and eighties was “the cruelty of man knows no bounds and is beholden to no level of ‘civilization’” (a message frequently stomped on by movies that are, by and large, pretty icky), The Green Inferno’s characters, for the most part, aren’t dicks. They’re kids who, while naive enough to be manipulated, are legitimately trying to do some good in the world. One of the first scenes has our protagonist walking out of Zabar’s and a few scenes later she’s ready to padlock herself to a bulldozer. This is clearly a character willing to put her money where her mouth is.
To sell the movie as “dumb college kids get what’s coming to them” is not only false advertising, it runs the risk of making the movie sound brainless and generic. Which it isn’t.
Much of the film’s (surprisingly involved) plot seems to be asking who’s right to tell people they’re wrong? With “people” alternatively being Americans, Peruvians, and natives.
It’s this complexity that heightens the film beyond where its baser instincts sometimes want it to go.
At the beginning of this write-up I said that The Green Inferno would end up being a litmus test. What I mean by that is the movie’s a kind of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup taste-test. How much comedy can you take with your gore and how much abject depravity can you take in your comedies?
What you certainly wouldn’t glean from the film’s marketing is how much humor is in The Green Inferno. And you’d be even more surprised how much of the humor successfully lands. In a couple of situations the jokes land better than the gore effects. I really regret seeing this as a Friday matinee. It would have played better with a bigger audience, and I felt strange laughing when there were only three other people in the theater. All more serious.
The gore is plentiful and above-average. It’s largely practical (although when there is computer animated blood: you notice it), but it’s the smaller gags (background trauma in the aftermath of a plane crash, for example) that really shine and that’s because they’re allowed a little mystique, aren’t given enough screen time to outstay their welcome.
The cast (which starts out pretty sprawling and is…whittled), is uniformly good. With the exception of Lorenza Izzo, who is excellent. Izzo plays our protagonist, Justine, while walking the razor’s edge between sweet and over-naive (there’s that word again). For a film so reliant on location and effects, Izzo bears much of its success or failure on her shoulders and succeeds.
All this positivity isn’t to say that the film is without flaws. It has a few legitimate ones, and they may be deal-breakers for a lot of people.
Despite shooting in Peru, there’s not going to be any mistaking The Green Inferno for a nature documentary. Every piece of wildlife, including a group of insects integral to a late-movie kill, ends up being some unfortunate mishmash if CG and green screen. There’s also a couple of weird pacing snags and a final reel that fizzles more than pops (complete with a Marvel-style post-credits tag, which feels like a first for this kind of movie).
But all of those are quibbles when I think back on the fact that I just sat in a multiplex theater and watched an honest-to-goodness gore film. A good one! A gore film that is very modern (and smart!) in its framing and storytelling, but is plenty old-school enough when it comes to what fans want: gallons and gallons of the red stuff, some of it coursing through a still-functioning brain.
One last thing. There’s a subsection of fans for which The Green Inferno won’t be a litmus test, but instead an entre to a pissing match. I’ve already seen it happening on my Facebook wall. The argument mostly boils down to “he’s ripping off Deodato!” and is mostly coming from people who haven’t seen the movie yet.
You’re right, dummy: they don’t make them like they used to. And they can’t, because we live in a different time.
To flash my own cred for a second: I’ve seen Cannibal Holocaust projected in 35mm (a feel-good, animal-friendly double feature in conjunction with The Man From Deep River). It wasn’t my first time seeing it, but as I told a friend leaving the theater: I think it will be my last. There will simply be no topping that screening experience and as much as I love so many aspects of the movie, watching those animals die makes me feel terrible. Terrible and glad that ‘they don’t make’em like that anymore.’
And, gaining ethos-wise, there’s also that thing I wrote a few years ago.
What I respect most about The Green Inferno is that it’s not a reference fest. It is reverent to what’s come before, but it understands that it needs to be a modern movie with modern concerns. It does its own thing, and any horror movie that does that is worth supporting in a theater.
Horror fans: don’t be snobs. You claim to hate snobbery (we are the most looked down upon genre, as many are quick to point out). See the movie and make up your own mind, but don’t go into it thinking you have to dislike it because it walks a different tonal path than the cannibals that have come before.
*and, don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the P.T. Barnum-ness of Roth’s claims, along with the normal “viral” rumors of people fainting and being sick at screenings, something we’ll surely be inundated with this weekend. William Castle would be proud.