By Kyle G. King. Eli Roth sure hates college students. A former NYU pupil himself, all four of his feature films plant groups of curious undergrads into supremely horrid situations: the barbarous nature of country-folk (and nature) in Cabin Fever, the perverted culture clash of Americans visiting Europe in Hostel and Hostel: Part II, and more recently, punishing American activists demonstrating in Peru with his newest horror flick, The Green Inferno. His movies relish putting entitled brats into foreign environments and watching them squirm in their naivety. Though Roth’s work always begs so many unusual questions, the most G-rated of them looms, “What the heck happened to Eli Roth in college?” (On second thought, let’s not answer that).
As doe-eyed college freshman Justine (played by Lorenza Izzo, who wed Roth last year) learns that the grotesque tribal ritual of female circumcision is still in practice within many native cultures today, she is appalled and utterly outraged. In an utterly one-note character shift, Justine joins an activist group that is set on preserving indigenous tribes of the Peruvian Amazon. Eager to prove herself to the brashly cute college senior activist (played crudely well by Ariel Levy), Justine boards a crowded charter plane beside him, a dozen others, and a duffle bag full of disguises, padlocks, and steel chains (Roth, as writer-director, clearly doesn’t have much respect for activist antics). They shackle themselves to bulldozers and use their camera phones against guns to document the hidden truths of the Amazon. But after their plane crashes into the jungle, Generation Selfie finds themselves shackled once more — this time, involuntarily — by a native tribe that has no need for guns or phones… (They eat people, they’re cannibals. Roth isn’t at all subtle, so why should I be?).
Even as he opted to cast real Peruvian natives as background actors (convincing them to do so with a screening of Cannibal Holocaust, The Green Inferno’s main inspiration) Roth uses little else that would have resemblance to reality within Inferno’s 100 minutes of torture (pun intended). First and foremost, there are no cannibals in the Amazon, no cases have ever been documented within it — yes that makes for boring cinema, but the exaggerated fact speaks to Roth’s hyperbolic and ungrounded style of storytelling. But rants of plot integrity could only be considered uncharitable to the man responsible for such smashing dialogue as, “Pancakes. Pancakes! No pancakes. PANCAKES! No Pancakes! (– Cabin Fever, 2002)”. Roth’s films exist to sate one primal craving: GORE. To push the visceral boundaries other filmmakers are too reserved (or smart) to muster the proverbial testicals to attempt (sexist comment provided as a nod to Eli Roth).
The problem with The Green Inferno (dropping all those plot integrity standards) is that the pull of the entire movie — the cinematic gore porn — never once attempts to achieve a technical (or even an allegorical) resonance. There’s one fine gruesome scene — the first and biggest — which ultimately amounts to a half decent yet R-rated Disney ride experience. Kudos to the foley artists, but squealing noises and jittery movements are hammy on-set details, even when they accompany a scene where a man has his appendages hacked off (the 1970’s came and went Mr. Roth, what else you got in your bag?). But as the strange homage to an unsavory page of grindhouse cinema plays out, literal Scooby-Doo antics arrive to forward a script in which Roth finds it necessary to include a bit of explosive diarrhea (further kudos to those foley artists). The real sadism comes from this offering of meta-cinematic torture.
We should further excuse Roth from the cheap reliance on the “savage tribesman stereotype”, it’s entirely racist but does provide great opportunity for asinine gorehound cinema. Points for semi-originality in making the cannibal’s leader a woman (Antonieta Pari) but points redacted to negative standings for wasting the commentary of Justine getting her period and the tribe revering it. Come for the carnage, stay because you’ve paid already, walk out two-thirds of the way through because you know what’s coming and it’s nothing worth staying around for.