Writer/Director Eli Roth told a sold out crowd to clear their minds and souls in preparation for his latest gross out ode to all things gore “The Green Inferno.” I wish he had also told us that his newest blood fest would almost cause me to clear my stomach as well. The film, shot almost exclusively on location in Tarapoto, Peru, is an over the top homage to 1980s cannibal flicks like Ruggero Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust” and “Last Cannibal World.”
Despite the all-star posse Roth brought to the AFI Fest for the After Dark midnight screening late Friday night—Quentin Tarantino, Marilyn Manson, and the majority of the movie’s cast—his grisly tale about Amazonian man-eaters feels as if it had its brains gobbled down first. Roth is a legend in the horror world, but his newest offering is decidedly lacking in substance.
“The Green Inferno” is essentially two films in one. As it opens, we are introduced to a sweet and innocent Columbia University freshman named Justine (Lorenza Izzo). When she—along with her much more devilish roommate (Sky Ferreira)—are woken up by a group of student activists, Justine finds herself inexplicably drawn to the collective. It probably has something to do with the fact that she totally thinks its older leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy) is absolutely gorgeous. That’s right, without any further incentive than to steal a kiss from her college crush, Justine joins the activist group and soon finds herself headed to the Amazon jungle to fight off deforestation. And how is she going to combat this oppressive force? With a cellphone camera of course.
Justine and Alejandro aren’t alone in this David versus Goliath expedition. They are accompanied by a stereotypical cross-section of students that lack even an iota of characterization. There’s a fat kid (Aaron Burns), a redhead (Daryl Sabara), a lesbian (Magda Apanowicz), and a girl that is pretty much afraid of everything (Kirby Bliss Blanton). For just over an hour, we watch this motely crew explore the jungle. When the cannibals finally show up, the film is already more than halfway over. Which, in movie about cannibals, is a problem.
This brings me to the second movie. If the first half of Roth’s hour and forty minute film shows American students trying to rid the world of problems they know nothing about, the final segment is about all of that ignorance coming back to bite them in the ass. Literally. After their plane crashes, the surviving college activists find themselves taken hostage by, you guessed it, aborigines that love to eat humans.
What transpires is irrefutably bloody. Actually, with nary any special effects and some of the best looking practical makeup and costuming I’ve seen in a long time, “The Green Inferno” has to be one of the most disgustingly realistic dismemberment movies since “Saw.” That being said, however, I just wish we could have gotten to the killing earlier. The slow build Roth creates with his film could have worked in favor of the writer/director if he used it to develop his characters. Yet, as soon as the feasting begins, I still had no idea who anybody really was. I just didn’t care that they were being hacked apart and roasted over an open flame.
When it comes to dying, however, Roth picked a fantastic cast. Using the majority of the actors and actresses he used for this year’s “Aftershock”—Izzo, Levy, Nicolas Martinez—the filmmaker is able to harness each talent’s ability to scream in the most blood-curdling fashion. Izzo, as our heroine, definitely deserves praise. Although not so much for her acting, but rather for her ability to go through the physical and emotional dangers Roth pits her against on a constant basis. Snakes. Rushing rivers. A horrible plane crash. These are just some of the very real atrocities her Justine character faces.
Even more impressive, Roth uses real Peruvian tribesmen and women to play the cannibals. This touch of authenticity might be at the expensive of an entire group of people that conceptually have no idea what a movie is, but hey, they make for great extras.
It’s fitting that the idea for “The Green Inferno” stems all the way back to the day Quentin Tarantino invited Roth, screenwriter Diablo Cody, and a smattering of other Hollywood elite over to his house to read the first draft of his “Inglorious Basterds” script. In talking with Cody, Roth told her that he had a particular image in his head. What if a bunch of cannibals somehow got really high? Would they get the munchies? What would they eat? This, in turn, became the groundwork for “The Green Inferno.”
Roth’s darkly offbeat sense of humor is on display throughout the movie, but it is never more present than in the scene when exactly that question is answered. The result is deeply creative, bloody, and rewarding. The rest of the picture, though, doesn’t follow with this same level of bravado. It has its moments, but in the end, “The Green Inferno” is ultimately just a movie about people eating people. And in the Zombie centric world we live in, I could easily turn on the latest episode of “The Walking Dead” to get my human consumption fix.
“The Green Inferno” premiered during the AFI Fest in Hollywood California on November 8th as part of the Midnight section of the festival. It was screened to a completely sold out crowd and will be shown again on Tuesday, November 12th at 9:15 PM in the Chinese 6 theaters. For tickets, head to afifest.afi.com.
AFI FEST presented by Audi is a celebration of global cinema and today’s Hollywood – a showcase for the best festival films of the year and an opportunity for master filmmakers and emerging artists to come together with audiences in the movie capital of the world. AFI FEST is the only festival of its stature that is free to the public.
By David Morris