Sunday, September 27, 2015

Review: The Green Inferno

Image courtesy of BH Tilt.
It's a good thing that Pope Francis didn't catch a screening of Eli Roth's "The Green Inferno" during his trip to the U.S. Aside from his likely being offended at the relentlessly grotesque images of human bodies being dismembered, disemboweled and torn to pieces, he might have been taken aback at the picture's endless criticisms of activists or people who get involved with crises in order to make the world a better place.

Don't get me wrong - the activists in Roth's film are naive, almost unbelievably so, but the degree to which he makes them suffer shows a worldview of apathy and disgust at people with causes. If you think I'm reading too much into a movie that is a throwback to the notorious Italian cannibal films of the 1970s and early 1980s, then take this quote straight from the horse's mouth - or, in this case, from the mouth of Sky Ferreira, playing the lead character's roommate in "Inferno," when she spouts off that "activism is so fucking gay."

In Roth's previous films, "Hostel" for example, the story has focused on ugly Americans abroad getting their comeuppance and, in his latest, it's so-called do gooders. Similar to his previous works, the nicest characters are the ones who suffer most and longest and the one thing that his latest film has in common with the rest of his oeuvre is the concept that Americans shouldn't travel abroad because foreigners are only interested in torturing or, in this case, eating them.

I've digressed quite a bit here. As I'd mentioned before, "The Green Inferno" is an homage to the mostly disreputable cannibal film sub-genre that included such nauseating cult classics as "Cannibal Ferox" and "Cannibal Holocaust," the latter of which also had sociopolitical themes tucked away between its barrage of real animal killings and dismemberment sequences. In fact, the documentary being shot by the film crew in "Holocaust" was titled "The Green Inferno."

But while "Holocaust" was entirely too troubling (mixed messages and repellent animal killings) to be called a good film, it was much more artistically sound than "Inferno." Ruggero Deodato's film had some merits - occasionally gorgeous cinematography, a few unforgettable shots and a surprisingly lovely score by Riz Ortolani - whereas Roth's is merely content to lay on the gore.

And lay it on he does. Although I'll give the filmmakers credit for some great set design (the cannibals' village), what follows after Justine (Lorenza Izzo, Roth's wife) and her activist pals are captured by the cannibal tribe and are brought to their village is not for the feint of heart. Technically, yes, the eye gouging, tongue ripping, limb chopping, decapitation, skin flaying and flesh eating sequence in which the group's nicest character is tortured to death is well-handled in terms of realism. But did I need to see that?

And the rest of the film attempts to juggle humor with the horrific violence, mostly unsuccessfully. The scene in which the activists attempt to get the natives high by sticking a large bag of weed in the throat of their dead compatriot who is next to be cooked was sorta funny. But the sequence in which a young woman is conflicted with diarrhea and another in which the over-the-top activist villain masturbates after another character's throat is slashed - well, not so much.

I'm still convinced that Roth could have a great horror movie in him. He knows his stuff and I've found him to be clever in small doses (enjoyed his work in "Inglourious Basterds" and his "Thanksgiving" trailer in "Grind House" was pretty brilliant), but his features have mostly turned me off. Roth has seemingly long been imitating Lucio Fulci, the gore-master whose films emphasized closeups of explicit violence, when a better role model might be Dario Argento, whose pictures are just as violent but with more style, actual frights and atmosphere.

There are a few moments when I can appreciate "The Green Inferno" for its technical prowess (you can say many things, but you can't argue that Roth isn't fully committed to this particular genre, animal killings thankfully excluded), but there are not enough of them for me to overlook the film's gleeful sadism and jaded worldview.

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