It was literary giant Anton Chekhov, I believe, who said, “If you show in the first act images of female genital mutilation (FGM) during a university lecture, in the second or third act you absolutely must move toward the cutting.” Or was that guns he was talking about?
FGM is a real-world atrocity that splatter master Eli Roth holds over the victims (and audience) in The Green Inferno, a limb-hacking, skin-slicing tale of good intentions turned cannibalistic nightmare.
With The Green Inferno, Roth takes to new lows the depravity he so adroitly captured in Hostel (2005) and Hostel: Part II (2007). Once again, he traps young adults far away from home in a horrific environment occupied by depraved individuals, but this time, the collective antagonist shifts from psychotic plutocrats in a ravaged Slovakian cityscape to cold-blooded cannibals in a Peruvian rainforest.
A group of university activists travels to the Amazon with hopes of stopping developers from killing off a remote tribe and destroying its land. Protagonist Justine, daughter of a United Nations lawyer, gets pressured into going by Alejandro, the group’s snarky leader. The plane goes down, the group gets caged, and then the barbarity begins.
A Rocky Start Redeemed
The film’s beginning, which builds up to Justine’s decision to join the group, is dull and at times amateurish. Justine and her sickly-looking, smug roommate Kaycee wander around campus and engage in mindless chatter. Perhaps this was Roth’s attempt to show average kids in College Town, USA. Regardless, it took too long to get the characters into the enemy’s clutches.
However, once the viewer experiences these savages (in every sense of the word), the film’s early shortcomings can be forgiven. Eli Roth, who so enthusiastically bashed in the head of a Nazi officer as Sgt. Donny Donowitz in Inglorious Basterds (2009), is not about characters. Roth is about creating worlds where violence, gore, and victimization reign supreme. The Green Inferno exceeds expectations on all accounts.
The Mob and the Matriarch
One of the film’s key strengths is the way it conveys the tribe’s maliciousness, ranging from the overall portrayal of the group to the behavior of twisted individuals. The scene during which the tribe ushers the students to a cage exemplifies the former. The natives sway and chant and paw at their terrified prisoners. With their red body paint, the tribe members seem to shed their humanity and coagulate into a many-tentacled Lovecraftian monstrosity. The shifting, chaotic nature of Roth’s filming immerses the viewer in the danger.
Nobody embodies the tribe’s malice more than its wrinkled matriarch, whose piercings, yellow face paint, and milky eye suggest the literary lovechild of Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allen Poe. She sizes up her captives as she limps predatorily across the screen. She oozes potential violence as she uses a claw to examine their hair, faces, and (in the case of females) nether regions with the patience of a connoisseur at a delicatessen.
Raise the Bar for Bad
Films often show the chief antagonist commit a particularly heinous initial act to show just how bad he or she is. In the case of The Green Inferno, it’s the matriarch who fulfills this role, and in so doing, achieves the height of gore with a genuine showstopper of slaughter.
The reader may recall the wood chipper scene that earned Fargo’s (1996) Gaear Grimsrud a reputation for dispassionate brutality. The tribal matriarch, however, injects a Broadway-worthy flamboyance to her key scene, which makes Fargo look like Sesame Street. That scene kicks off what quickly becomes a smorgasbord of psychological terror (who’s going to be next?) and sumptuously over-the-top gore (e.g. children trying on flaps of skin as if at a fashion store).
The Green Inferno offers a lawless world where good isn’t necessarily rewarded, nor bad punished. Suffering is random, based on the whim of an antagonist whose motives are impossible to comprehend. The film raises some questions on benevolence versus self-preservation, and on the treacherousness of humans in contrast to the necessities of animals.
Kudos to Eli Roth for serving up a new classic in goreography and for continuing to slice apart Hollywood conventions. ***** Douglas J. Ogurek