Written by J. Weagle
Fear will eat you alive.
It’s safe to say that The Green Inferno was one of the most hyped horror films in quite some time. Director Eli Roth’s last film came out eight years ago and although he directed little pieces here and there (Thanksgiving trailer for Grindhouse, Nations Pride the fake Nazi propaganda film in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) a full length film was something that horror fans were anticipating. That’s why it was a punch to the gut when The Green Inferno received a delayed release back in 2013, and it looked like the little cannibal film that could was in deep trouble. Well two years later and finally with whatever behind the scenes production troubles cursed it gone, The Green Inferno hit theatres. Was it worth the wait?
Roth has stated many times that the number one influence on this film was 1980 Cannibal Holocaust, however with The Green Inferno he takes a decidedly different approach to the cannibal genre and not always a successful one. Where Holocaust was an in your face relentless docudrama Roth’s film is almost completely different in tone and is often quite jokey. This should come as no surprise to anyone who follows Roth’s filmography as no matter the subject matter he tends to lean on the jokes more than most. Usually that’s fine, however here it means that the tone fluctuates wildly to an almost jarring result that dissipates the overall threat posed by the cannibals. It often plays out more like a teen scream horror than a serious gruesome cannibal film, with some jokes working and others either so ridiculous that it becomes idiotic or completely taking away from any tension that it managed to cultivate.
The plot is pretty standard Roth territory in that it centres on a group of eco aware and arrogant students who travel into the middle of the Amazonian rain-forest to stage a viral protest against some environment destroying workers, needless to say things take a bad turn and they wind up captive by a tribe of cannibals and they become victims of the ones they were trying to help. It plays on familiar themes of privileged American University students facing an obstacle that is completely out of their realm, not unlike the skin eating virus of Cabin Fever or the torturers in the Hostel films, and although it’s nice to have Roth back at it I can’t help but feel disappointed that he didn’t try to branch out of his comfort zone a little more.
The look of the film is terrific however, the colours of the Peruvian jungle pop on screen and immediately give it a look drastically different from what we are use to in modern horror films. There are no dreary dark corridors or rusted torture rooms here, nothing but bright vibrant greens (jungle) and reds (gore). Surprisingly it’s not as violent as one might expect and even compared to the directors earlier films this one feels a bit constrained. We get one brutal scene and it almost feels like that one scene took out most of the effects budget because we do not get much in the way of gross out entertainment after that. Add to that the fact that the violence feels far less gruesome surrounded by the silly jokey tone that permeates it, and the fact that even once captured none of the characters are taking their situation seriously.
The on location photography adds a fair bit, and the cannibals themselves are quite distinctive as well, in particular the more prominent members of the tribe look fierce and creepy. I can’t help but feel that if Roth had held back on the silly fluff and went full on with the subject matter and violence then it would have made for a far better film. This is the first time one of his films has felt like a missed opportunity, a good idea that was hindered by his own need to make viewers laugh when we should have been terrified.