With an Eli Roth film, one should know what one is getting into, as in, an unspeakably unsettling film that will feature violence, gore, and a side of human nature that does not show the species off to its best advantage. It will also probably be a film that is well crafted enough so that not all the queasiness it induces derives from the random bits of human bodies disarranged in loving and lingering close-up. Thus it is with THE GREEN INFERNO, a tale of idealism, cannibals, explosive diarrhea, and finding out how the real world operates beneath the smoke and mirrors.
Our idealist is Justine (Lorenza Izzo), a wide-eyed college freshman drawn to the campus activist, Alejandro (Ariel Levy). Her best friend Kaycee (Sky Ferreira) functions as best friends in such films do, and warns her that there is something creepy about Alejandro’s charisma. Justine, though, spurred by a gruesome class lecture on Female Genital Mutilation, and her U.N. delegate father’s insistence that there’s nothing we can do about the world’s ills except shake our collective heads and say “tut tut”, fails to take Kaycee’s advice. Hence, she’s ripe for the picking when Jonah (Aaron Burns), the sweet chubby guy who is crushing on Justine, invites her to an activist meeting Alejandro is hosting. In short order, she’s told her father a little white lie about why she’s taking a weekend trip to Peru, packed her bag, and told Kaycee not to worry.
The plan is to shame the energy corporation, currently destroying the rain forest and killing one of the last unassimilated Peruvian tribes, by live-streaming a protest from the site to the whole world. And so we have a group of affluent first-world kids in the middle of the Emerald Forest wanting to make the world a better place, and we have a rich guy footing the bill for no readily apparent reason, and Alejandro’s possessive girlfriend, Kara (Ignacia Allamand), making it very clear that she would have no problems with Justine not coming back in one piece. Obviously, things are not going to go well.
Roth, who co-wrote the script as well as directed, has a knack for injecting the right note of humor amid the horror. Not just the moment when one of those affluent college kids encounters a tarantula during his first bathroom break in the jungle and takes it out with a revolver. Repeatedly. No, that is almost too easy. Nor the moment when they arrive as captives in the native village as they inhabitants mob them, grabbing skin, hair, and clothing. What’s difficult, and what he pulls off, are those moments when one of them delivers what may be the defining line of the film while facing some peckish cannibals. “Damn the munchies.” Roth also used members of an actual Amazonian tribe, one not photographed before, to play the extras in the film, providing an unexpected ethnological element, though the half-decayed skeletons and heads on stakes, it should be noted, are film props.
Sure, from the moment these kids enter the jungle, it’s just a matter of time before they become the captives of that red- and yellow-painted
tribe we see being victimized at the start of the film as they watch its jungle being flattened. Sure, there is a protracted and detailed attention as the first of them becomes lunch, not just to the slaughter, but also to the consumption, with slabs being liberated from readily identifiable bits and pieces. Sure, there will be the alien customs and rituals, led by gray-haired woman (Antonieta Pari) with a cataract and a very sharp knife, none of them subtitled so that we are just as confused as the captives. This is why Roth’s audience is there. He could stop there, but he doesn’t adding what may or may not be a metaphor about the first world cannibalizing the third world to its own eventual demise. I have, I should note, been accused of reading too much into things. Still, it’s so very apt. Justine’s loss of innocence, as her idealism is saturated with a ruthless streak of cynicism, is less metaphor than cautionary tale about the necessity of having a modicum of paranoia in order to safely negotiate life. Or at least to pay attention when one’s best friend and roommate offers advice. Kudos, too, for casting Izzo, who discovers many moods and manifestations in looking terrified, all of them evoking a compelling immediacy.
THE GREEN INFERNO is Roth’s homage to one of his favorite horror films, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, the one he credits with making him want to be a director. He’s done his inspiration proud.