Writer: Eli Roth, Guillermo Almoedo
Cast: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand
Running time: 100mins
The lowdown: Eli Roth’s grisly love letter to 1970s and 80s gut-crunching cannibal cinema marks his first feature film directorial outing in six years. Good news is the wait has largely been worth it. A shaky start leads into an outrageously gory final hour when a bunch of student activists crash in the Peruvian jungle. Not perfect, and muddled of message, but tasty enough.
The full verdict: Nostalgia seeps into even the nastiest of horror genres and Eli Roth delivers an oddly affectionate homage to Cannibal Ferox, Eaten Alive and, chiefly, the grunge masterpiece Cannibal Holocaust. Even the title, The Green Inferno, is a nod to that movie’s film-within-a-film.
The opening 30 minutes do not bode well. A clunky set-up has student Justine (Izzo) slipping into activism due to a crush South American politico Alejandro (Levy).
Soon Justine’s agreeing to join Alejandro and his group on a trip to Peru to protest big business’ destruction of the rainforest and its indigenous tribes.
Social commentary in cannibal films of old was of the “take it or leave it” variety. Here, within fifteen minutes Roth has tackled globalisation, health care rights and female genital mutilation, self-consciously attempting to add brains to the dish.
Yet, despite a tense protest stand-off with Peruvian construction workers and their militia guard, uneven performances and bland direction threaten to place The Green Inferno alongside Roth’s other misfire, Hostel II.
Only when the team’s plane crashes en route back to the US do you remember Roth’s was the fevered mind that gave us Cabin Fever and Hostel. And that splatter masters Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero are on make-up duties.
A jaw-dropping action sequence that proves the director is comfortable with FX heavy set-pieces, the plane crash and its protracted aftermath is the shot of adrenalin the film needs.
And this is mere hors d’ouevres to the main course, as a cannibal tribe abduct the survivors and take them home for dinner.
Nailing the confusion and terror of the group as they enter the tribal village, the actors find their comfort zone conveying mind-bending fear. A sequence of genuine power, it’s the film’s strongest moment and echoes through to the final credits.
Roth also treats the audience to a full dismemberment as one of the group is ritualistically de-eyeballed, de-tongued, quartered and beheaded, while the others look on from their pig pen prison.
But, he and co-writer Amoedo also lighten things up for modern audiences who would regard Cannibal Holocaust as a real lunch loser.
Spiking a body with Peruvian skunk and the subsequent post-dinner stoner fest, one team member’s explosive diarrhea and another’s “hands-on” approach to stress relief are so much frat boy humour.
Better is a striking sequence of the village elders gossiping as they salt dismembered body parts or a particularly fiendish gag involving distinctive tattoos.
Roth has more difficulty in the politics of depicting the tribe. Those films of the 70s and 80s sat in the same camp as films from the 1930s and 40s in cultural sensitivity.
Here Roth seems to be saying globalisation is first world cannibalism / in harsh jungle cannibalism is a necessity / we shouldn’t judge what we don’t understand / pick whatever you think justifies showing primitive tribesfolk chowing down on pretty Westerners.
This indecisveness extends to the tribe’s role in the film: Avatar-like Na’vi in a pre-credit sequence, monsters in the middle section, Temple of Doom’s Thuggee in a female genital mutilation subplot and noble warriors come the muddled ending.
And he’s too fond of his cast, including Izzo and Spy Kids alumnus Sabara, to cast them in the same light as the dishonest documentarians of Cannibal Holocaust, thus losing the “who are the real cannibals?” argument of his inspiration.
Although at least this cannibal movie is missing the animal cruelty that added to the original cycle’s notoriety.
Overall, a partial success. But, “affluent young Americans leave their cosmopolitan comfort zone and the big bad world eats them up (literally here)” describes all his movies to date.
If Roth wants to rediscover his mojo, he might find it in the darkness of middle-class America.