Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
September 2015

The Green Inferno

...and social justice for all

'The Green Inferno' is a presumptive satire with no satirical edge

The Green Inferno
Universal Pictures
Director: Eli Roth
Screenplay: Eli Roth and Guillermo Amoedo
Starring: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns, Antonieta Leti, Ramón Llao, Magda Apanowicz, Nicolás Martínez and Kirby Bliss Blanton
Rated R / 1 hour, 40 minutes
September 25, 2015
(out of four)

There's a cosmic joke at the heart of The Green Inferno, and it's a good one. Young college activists - well-meaning, naive, filled with self-righteous fury - take it upon themselves to protect a native Amazonian tribe whose home is under threat of destruction, and end up getting tortured, killed and cannibalized by that very tribe as a result.

If writer/director Eli Roth's sense of irony extended anywhere beyond that, he may have actually done something with his premise. As it is, the film basically has that one idea and nothing else; once we get to the rainforest and the real action begins, we're in a perpetual dramatic standstill that no gory death scene or poorly staged escape sequence can alleviate.

Working in genre can be a double-edged sword. You inherit a huge playground of conventions, expectations, influences and history to work with ... but you've gotta bring something specific to it or you might as well not even try. There has to be reason why watching this movie will be markedly different from watching any number of others. I think Roth thinks he has that reason with the social-justice angle, but his use of it is so half-assed, so empty, that it never even threatens to become the audacious satire-wrapped-in-genre it so badly wants to be. Roth simply has no satirical voice to speak of. He has the ambitions of a sharp ironist and all the grace of the high-school douchebag who just likes to laugh at the nerds in the Debate Club.

Which is not to say he doesn't select a worthy enough target. The young activist crowd - full of noble intentions but hopelessly self-important and self-serious - is as ripe for parody as anyone else. You know the most egregious types. The ones who've just watched an issue documentary - or glanced over a pamphlet or heard half of an impassioned lecture - and have suddenly decided they're extremely passionate about that issue. We all knew those guys in college.

What a movie like this can give them is not so much comeuppance - because, ultimately, good intentions are still good intentions - but a jolt of reality. The brand of reality dished out in The Green Inferno just happens to be a particularly vicious kind. Fair enough.

But Roth's attempts to make his characters look foolish never pick up steam because he (and let's not forget to blame co-writer Guillermo Amoedo) never finds anything remotely interesting to do with them, or their burgeoning "movement," in the first place. Our young do-gooders are barely even stock stereotypes - they're borderline nonexistent, beyond a few lazily applied characteristics. ("This one's a vegan." "This one's a stoner.") And their cause is only ever used as a plot catalyst, so there's nothing of substance to actually do with it, ironically or otherwise, once things go bad. We get the inevitable corruption and cowardice within the activists' ranks. We get a bit of half-baked juxtaposition of their supposed values and their in-the-moment decisions. But the film never sinks its teeth into anything.

Roth just lets his modestly clever idea sit there, never doing anything to build on or exploit the implicit ironies and sociological possibilities he's working with. A lot of horror filmmakers are terrific social satirists, and Roth has always had inclinations in that direction. He just doesn't seem to have much of an instinct for it - not in his storytelling and certainly not in his images. The Green Inferno's visual language is not just completely banal - the whole movie is an eyesore. It's repulsively overlit, with the color balance of a cheapo sitcom. It has the visual amateur vibe of a student film or a cheaply produced documentary. And no, before you ask, this is not (unlike one of its influences, Cannibal Holocaust) found-footage or any kind of faux-doc, so it can't use that as an excuse for its ugliness. No, this is just a movie that happens to look like it was shot on someone's phone.

Does it at least deliver the goods from a gore standpoint? I guess it reaches a certain bar - solid makeup, prosthetics and practical effects - but the violent imagery itself is neither interesting nor particularly shocking, especially for a movie that so blatantly positions itself to shock.

Roth's movies weren't always this bad, were they? I suppose the fact that he re-teamed with so many of his collaborators from Aftershock (the incompetent 2012 film he co-wrote and starred in) should have been an ominous clue. At any rate, The Green Inferno not only offers nothing new from a horror standpoint, but does so, so much less with its premise than it wants to, or thinks it does.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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