One cannot see how alien the landscape and people of the Amazon are for its money green trees. Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno opens over a jungle green sea of trees then zeroes in on a tribal elder and youngster gathering plants who are being encroached upon by a monstrous-looking backhoe tearing down everything in its path. Its old school moral is pretty quickly established and underlined. Amazonian tribesmen may be mysterious and scary, but the true savage is so-called civilized man.
The heroes journey of The Green Inferno begins with the fresh faced college freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo), awakened into activism by a noisy protest for janitor rights on the lawn outside her dorm window. Her roommate (the crystal-method acting Sky Ferreira) prefers, like the rest of us, to sleep and cuddle with our heads buried beneath blankets. But Justine, whose polished-to-a-high-gloss father is an attorney at the United Nations, looks in need of being moved by something. After sitting through an uneasy lecture on female genital mutilation (damn, Eli—do we really have to go there?) Justine becomes motivated to Do Something. If not social activism, then maybe the kinda cute but severely dickish activist leader, Alejandro (Ariel Levy). But he’s neither charismatic nor cool to be around. Neither does he seem passionate — but rather just a dismissive ass. Why anyone would follow this joker to a remote jungle is beyond me. But between Justine’s growing social unease and the bashful encouragement of the much more friendly and doe-eyed group member Jonah (Aaron Burns) she joins the cause. Alejandro, by the way, doesn’t ask Justine to join, but just the opposite. She signs up anyway just in time to join the group as they’re en route to Chile to stop the deforestation and save a small tribe by shaming a development company through social media activism.
Once they reach the jungle, they travel up river and crash a work site where they chain themselves to trees and use cell phone footage to gain worldwide support. But Justine has a slight hiccup during the event and quickly learns the hard truth that her group is on a Do or Die mission and they have no time or interest in protecting or looking out for its members.
The protest ends well enough but en route back to town, the plane’s engine blows and they spectacularly crash land in the jungle. The crash-survivors are quickly met by local tribes people who know just how to greet strangers from out of town. They bring out the briquettes.
The tribespeople, stunningly body painted red against the rainforests rigid green background, cage our heroes who all watch in vague horror as Jonah, the groups only black dude, is naturally chosen first. Its not enough he’s the films only black male, he’s also pleasingly plump. What happens next you’ve kinda seen teased in the trailers. If you haven’t seen the teaser, trust its all bad. If you stay seated and don’t sneak into another showing of Mission Impossible, thereafter it’s a bad Beckett play as the caged survivors huddle and plot escape while the villagers celebrate a kind of thanksgiving.
Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno is a close relative to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, only with a sense of humor. Where Cannibal Holocaust challenged audiences with its snuff-like daring, Inferno comes off as, dare I say, more loving of the genre and more approachable… that is, if any audience not aware of Eli Roth’s resume would dare approach this in the first place. Plotwise, anyone whose seen more than a dozen movies in their lifetime won’t be surprised at how the tightly constructed screenplay carefully lays out elements that all come back into play. The activist girl with motion sickness. The stoner hoping for some Peruvian kush. The special meaning necklace. The cellphones. Justine doesn’t sit through a lecture on Female Genital Mutilation and fire ants for nothing. There’s no inventive story or surprises or deep revelations here. Roth isn’t interested in depth, but guts. Eli Roth is the little brother who likes chewing with his mouth open across the table… then snipping the end of his tongue with scissors.
But truth told: its not bad. Those are real villagers used as extras and the films cinematographer, Antonio Quercia shoots a gorgeous landscape with occasional and appropriate claustrophobic and nauseous camerawork. If you’re an Eli Roth fan and you’re digging the current zombie craze, there’s tons of stuff here to love. Cannibal Holocaust, which I recently revisited, is a distasteful test of anyone’s endurance. Inferno by comparison is much more accessible. Though make no mistake, it’s elbow deep in gore. Despite its A-B-C plotting and eventual bloodbath, its not bad at all. Tastes like chicken. There, I said it.
(P.S.: If you go AND make it to the end credits, hang around for a second. There’s a tag at the end that made me shake my head and may make others wag their tails in anticipation)