Eli Roth’s bloodbath, The Green Inferno, stars Lorenza Izzo (“Sex Ed”) as Justine, an oblivious college freshman who joins a social activism group constantly rallying on her New York campus. The crusade, led by older student Alejandro (Ariel Levy, “The Stranger”) and his girlfriend Kara (Ignacia Allamand, “Best Worst Friends”), is planning a trip to the Amazon rainforest to protest the destruction of thousands of acres of land — consequently killing the ancient native tribe living there. While they first see Justine’s interest as a phase they are later persuaded by her father’s status, an attorney for the United Nations, to let her in on a plot to live-stream their attempts at stopping the logging companies from desecrating the region.
When their plane crashes, the crew, rounded out by a few benign faces (played by Matías López, Magda Apanowicz, Aaron Burns, and Daryl Sabara), learns the road to hell is literally paved with good intentions. They regain consciousness in the middle of the jungle, tied up on boats led by the tribe they were so adamantly protecting. Diplomacy gets thrown out the window when it becomes apparent the natives are proud cannibals.
Isolated tribes are interesting to read about. Anthropologists claim many of these “uncontacted” peoples aren’t oblivious to the world at large (nor do they have human-based diets). Some have tried connecting with neighboring villages, though many fear violence — paranoia inspired by past experiences with slave traders and drug smugglers who’ve passed through their territory. Roth could’ve definitely made more allusions to that. To his credit, however, his script makes it hard to fault the “villains” for their olden traditions. They aren’t exactly the embodiment of evil; a timeless humanity resides within this tribe, such as children playing together whilst also learning their elders.
There’s been some backlash concerning Roth’s depiction of individuals living in voluntary isolation. Survival International, the organization that campaigns for indigenous people, has claimed that the script reinforces neocolonialism by showing them as “uncivilized.” Roth, at least in my opinion, doesn’t have a racist agenda with The Green Inferno. The film mostly satirizes rich millennials like Justine who’re compelled by their own cultural arrogance to act on things they don’t understand. That extends to the audience. Since the cast comes without an interpreter role, we, as viewers and outsiders alike, are completely oblivious to the context of their captive’s actions — an unbridled well of suspense.
The Green Inferno does have some inkling of a political message, although it could’ve been fleshed out more as well. Roth, mirroring Alejandro, has major qualms with corporations. Extractive industries have had a wrought history with the indigenous people — that’s a fact. Mega-projects, much like the one the film’s social activists try to dismantle, force displacement, compromise the health of those living in isolation, and also contribute to the loss of native culture. The director’s rebuttal to Survival International addressed these issues: “These companies don’t need an excuse — they have one — the natural resources in the ground. They can window dress things however they like, but nobody will destroy a village because they didn’t like a character in a movie, they’ll do it because they want to get rich by draining what’s under the village.” Unfortunately those sentiments are only mentioned to set up scenes of perpetual violence.
Thus the problem arises: Eli Roth tries too hard to be Eli Roth. The Green Inferno has some extreme cringe moments. One scene is particularly painful: An escape plan that involves getting the tribe extremely stoned. Roth often pushes too far into caricature. Justine never really loses his false sense of idealism; on the flip side Alejandro’s first introduced as this faux-revolutionary who has no trouble kicking people out of his coffee shop round-ups and progressively escalates to the dude who has no issue furiously masturbating while trapped in a cage with his schoolmates. Kaycee (played by pop star Sky Ferreira, probably the biggest named performer) is one of the film’s least grating characters: A stoic twenty-something who reserves the right to say “I told you so” almost immediately.
While the acting has its weak spots, especially during more “lighthearted” scenes, it does, for the most part, compliment the violence. There aren’t any Oscar-worthy performances, but the cast does good enough to keep an air of discomfort suspended over the audience. Although Ramón Llao and Antonieta Pari, who play the tribe’s leaders, deserve praise; even without understandable dialogue the two manage to make their roles not only haunting but also incredibly human — if only through their characters’ strict devotion to ritual.
Despite its issues and controversies The Green Inferno is a fairly thought-provoking horror flick. It shows that innocence is a perception, even if Roth’s take on the idea is somewhat problematic. Gore, as can be expected with a film billed as the spiritual successor of “Cannibal Holocaust,” is inevitably going to be the main talking point for a lot of people; personally I didn’t find it as intriguing as the themes it’s built around — a refreshing detour from a director who’s had career-long problems with style-over-substance.