The Green Inferno (2013)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: July 25th, 2019
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Click here for my original review of The Green Inferno from 2015.
Eli Roth is an old-school provocateur whose sensibilities often feel anachronistic in modern times. This is not to say vintage exploitation films didn’t draw their share of furor because many of them were produced for that explicit purpose. However, in an era where films are often test-screened and focus-grouped in an effort to round out their edges in a concerted effort not to offend, the likes of Cabin Fever, Hostel, and especially The Green Inferno feel like relative shocks to the system, so to speak. I’m not sure this isn’t a good thing: we should be holding art and artists to higher standards in terms of representation and the worldviews they might endorse. However, there’s something to be said for Roth’s brand of filmmaking, which often gives few fucks and often relies on juvenile provocation.
I think there’s a place for this kind of art too because it allows us to indulge violent, perverse, downright distasteful junk and experience some twisted form of catharsis. Extremists of the moral majority once argued that a film like The Green Inferno would inspire psychopaths; I’d argue that it does the opposite since it allows us to explore the dark, unseemly corners of our imagination within the safe confines of art.
Not that The Green Inferno is exactly some dark, disturbing descent into the hellish void of the human condition. In fact, it’s pitched as almost the exact antithesis since Roth’s frat-bro/edgelord schtick makes it almost impossible to take seriously. And that’s precisely what he’s up to because The Green Inferno is the cinematic equivalent of an internet troll nudging someone and asking them if they’re triggered yet. It’s blatant hucksterism and attention-seeking, with Roth acting like a carnival barker. He’s here to show you some fucked-up shit, and he’s not particularly concerned about offending you with it. You dared to look, right?
In fact, The Green Inferno has a built-in mechanism that anticipates and deflects such concerns: it’s not just about any old group meeting their nasty, blood-and-shit-stained doom in the Amazon jungle. Pointedly, it’s a group of college activists, depicted here as the sort of perpetually, comically offended sort that some people roll their eyes at. Following a lecture on female genital mutilation, wide-eyed freshman Justine (Lorenzo Izzo) suddenly has the urge to do something, so she joins an on-campus group’s trek to Peru, where an encroaching oil company threatens the livelihood of the native tribes.
Their demonstration is successful, at least to the outside world (read: social media followers) that watch them stop the company’s advance through the jungle. However, Justine learns that the group’s charismatic leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy) deemed her expendable bait, leaving her disillusioned by the whole experience. Her disappointment soon turns to terror, though, when their return plane crashes right in the heart of the tribe’s territory, where the remaining survivors become captives of the very people they just saved.
Honestly, I think that’s the extent of Roth’s musings in The Green Inferno: “look at how fucked up that is,” he says, gleefully pointing his finger as the cannibals eviscerate most of his characters. It’s not out of disdain for these characters or their activism; rather, spilling blood and guts with gusto is the one thing Roth certainly believes in. Everyone’s on the chopping block, starting with Jonah (Aaron Burns), one of the few genuinely nice members of the crew. He’s like everyone else though: perfectly disposable and destined to be torn limb-from-limb as part of the tribe’s feast. By the time Roth gets down to what he—and his audience—clearly came for, The Green Inferno devolves into a gore-slathered homage to a completely disreputable genre that was deemed bad taste decades earlier.
Far from a self-aware, reflective take on this genre, The Green Inferno delights in its vomitous legacy of mangled flesh and cratered skulls. Quite possibly the sickest, most outrageous gore picture to be released in multiplexes this decade, it leans into gratuitous gore and even more gratuitous nonsense, like a scene where a girl shits her brains out. In many ways, the more outrageous outbursts feel like calculated deflection: can you really be that offended by a movie where a cannibal tribe allows their prisoners to escape because they get high on weed?
Well, of course you can, and I’m certainly not one to tell you otherwise. Roth’s blatant exploitation of the “third world” Other recalls the genre’s racist tendency to equate foreign lands and their natives with brutality and evil, which is enough to stick in any sensible person’s craw. Furthermore, his alarmingly flippant attitude towards activism makes The Green Inferno feel like it was made for the type of assholes who use “SJW” as a pejorative. At first glance, it’s hard not to see it as a reflection of the “fuck your feelings” mentality that’s currently poisoning the country: on its surface this is a movie where good deeds are punished to an extreme—and that’s the joke.
However, digging a little bit deeper reveals something just a little bit more nuanced. It wouldn’t be a Eurohorror cannibal movie tribute if The Green Inferno didn’t feature some heavy-handed moralizing about how the “civilized” folks are the real savages, and Roth doesn’t disappoint with his treatment of this particular sort of activism. A mid-movie twist reveals this trek was a sham funded by a competing oil company ready to swoop in while the activists claim a public victory. The idealistic, altruistic Alejandro is nothing but a phony pragmatist who insists that “good” and “bad” are both relative and commingled concepts. What really matters is influence, or at least the illusion of influence on social media.
This is the kind of bullshit Roth really disdains: self-serving hypocrites who will sell out both their colleagues and the principles when the chips are down. Is it sloppy and troubling that he conflates this will all activism? Perhaps a little bit, but looking beneath Roth’s splat-pack enfant terrible reputation reveals a consistent misanthropy, or at least a deep distrust of humanity. Between this, Cabin Fever, the Hostel films, and even Knock Knock, Roth paints a pretty bleak portrait of how primitive we can be.
With repeat viewings, The Green Inferno seems to be less about trolling activists and more about facing the grim truth that we might just be fucked as a species. Nothing matters. Even if your activism is sincere, it won’t accomplish anything. Surviving this ordeal only leaves Justine traumatized and powerless as the charlatan that nearly got her killed in the Amazon becomes a martyr emblazoned on t-shirts, a sick twist of fate that takes a jab at the ultimate goal for 21st century influencers. It should also be noted that one person who emerges unscathed is Justine’s roommate, whose dismissive attitude towards activism keeps her home. Even she, however, is a glib, shallow type that insists “activism is so gay,” a declaration that gives voice to Roth’s juvenile impulses.
I can clearly see that she’s not a model character; however, I’m not sure Roth himself would agree, especially since she continues to act like some kind of slacker Greek chorus, appearing mostly to point out how overwhelmingly stupid everything is. To a certain extent, I think she is Roth’s mouthpiece, which is what often makes his work so easy to dismiss. When everything is a joke, it’s difficult to tell what he actually does believe. It’s almost tempting to assume that he doesn’t really believe in anything beyond his insistence that everyone is full of shit.
Maybe that extends to both himself and even his audience as well: I mean, here I am trying to reckon with the troubling aspects of The Green Inferno in an attempt to justify my begrudging respect for it, knowing full well how unseemly it is. Maybe this is a true guilty pleasure: a film that you can willingly watch in amusement, even if you know the joke is tasteless. Or, to put it in 21st century parlance, Roth remains a “a problematic fave”—I should know better, and he should know better, but, sometimes, you just don’t want to know better, and a film like The Green Inferno satisfies that particular craving.
Fans of The Green Inferno didn’t have to wait too long for Scream Factory to make up for Universal’s relatively lackluster Blu-ray release. Just three years after its debut on the format, the film receives a major upgrade with a new Collector’s Edition that piles on an assortment of supplements in addition to the already solid presentation (though the slick transfer might leave you lamenting that this movie looks too clean and lacks the gritty texture this genre demands).
The centerpiece here is “Into The Green Inferno,” a 50-minute interview with Roth, who traces the project’s origins, production, and delayed release. He gives a pretty solid overview of the cannibal genre that inspired the film and does so with the exuberance of a genuine fan: say what you want about him, but Roth is definitely one of us, and his enthusiasm shines throughout this piece, sometimes even alarmingly so (he’s a little bit too giddy about how one of his actresses was almost bitten by a real snake, and he ends the interview triumphantly declaring that “nobody died!”). It’s good from a nuts-and-bolts filmmaking perspective too, as it features tons of on-set footage of Roth explaining the various difficulties and fuck-ups along the way (someone literally forgot to record one particularly harrowing scene, much to his dismay). He also mentions that he had the idea for a sequel prepped, but it seems unlikely to happen given how The Green Inferno was unceremoniously dumped into theaters once Blumhouse and Universal rescued it from bankruptcy court.
“Uncivilized Behavior” is a 35-minute piece that gives Izzo, Kirby Bliss Blanton and Daryl Sabara to discuss their experience working in Chile and Peru. Between this and the hour of fly-on-the-wall behind-the-scenes footage that’s included, viewers have an extensive look at what it must have been like to work in such an unconventional setting. Another 15-minute making-of supplement and a trio of short featurettes contain even more footage and on-set interviews for a further look. The original commentary track with Roth, Izzo, Burns, Blanton, Sabara, and producer Nicholas Lopez is ported over from the old disc alongside a photo gallery, TV spots, and a theatrical trailer. Scream has also commissioned new cover art and included a CD of the film’s soundtrack for good measure.
It’s an impressive package that makes you wish studios would just start immediately contracting Scream Factory to handle new releases instead of double-dipping (even though, yes, double-dipping is embedded in the DNA of cult home video). If nothing else, I hope this is a sign that Scream might do similar editions of other recent films that also deserve similar treatment. comments powered by Disqus Ratings:
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