Eli Roth returns after a lengthy stay away from the director’s chair with an all new bloody mess of a film (in more than one way). While undoubtedly fun for varying stretches of it’s runtime, The Green Inferno doesn’t seem entirely sure what it has to say, or which tone to say it in, resulting in a visually impressive but fundamentally confused gore-fest.
Say what you will about Eli Roth (and I could say many things) but the man genuinely does care about his craft. His enthusiasm for horror is infectious in his interviews and his apparent buddy-buddy bro-status with Tarantino gives him some legitimate genre cred. It’s unfortunate, then, that his concepts don’t seem to translate particularly well into full-fledged theatrical productions. While interesting and potentially engaging ideas float around in his body of work it’s hard not to feel like Roth isn’t ever entirely sure what it is he’s actually trying to accomplish. In this regard, The Green Inferno is no exception.
Set in an unspecified area of the Amazon, Inferno follows the catastrophic results of an ill-conceived attempt at wildlife preservation by a group of self-serious college kids. The film’s first third or so is a lengthy yet clumsy satirical piece on millennial “Social Justice Warriors” and their ineffective breed of activism, a point which Roth drives home repeatedly with mixed results. On the one hand, the portrayal of over-zealous, self-righteous college kids is snicker worthy, on the other hand the film never has anything real to say about these sorts of people beyond “aren’t these guys annoying?” There’s a really story to tell behind this idea, but Roth barely tells it, settling instead for thin pseudo-satire as a lead-in for his real interest: violence. Lots of it.
After completing their mission, our band of silly kidskin do themselves nosediving back into the jungle in an impressively tense plane crash sequence. From there, things only get worse for them. It’s here, with the tribe of indigenous cannibals the group ostensibly just saved, that the film finally kicks off and simultaneously begins to have its real problems. The foremost problem being: is this a horror film or a comedy? Not to say it can’t be both, but the final two thirds of Green Inferno toss both comedy and horror into the ring haphazardly with little to no regard for how they relate with each other or if they work in the same space.
The scene in which the cannibalism first starts is, by far, Green Inferno’s most memorable. The group’s first member to be dispatched by the natives is dealt with in a fashion so gratuitous and horrifying that, even considering that it’s a of scene in an Eli Roth movie, is of almost questionable taste. The scene left an unpleasant feeling in my gut, to be honest, which, at that point in the film, I was fine with. The problem with this scene is not really the scene itself, but the movie that follows it. At no point during the rest of Green Inferno’s runtime does Roth even attempt to follow up this first, stomach-churning moment.
Nothing that follows is even half as gruesome as this introductory sequence. On the contrary, much of the violence in the rest of the film is played for slap-sticky sort of laughs. It’s a confusing experience, to say the least, watching a horror film hit peak horror at the second-act mark and offering the cinematic equivalent of a shrug for the remainder. In retrospect it makes that first scene feel completely out of place, an appalling and disturbing moment in an otherwise fairly silly film.
This conundrum of tone is the central element that prevents Green Inferno from elevating itself to something substantial and impactful. It’s a film that doesn’t entirely know what it’s going for or what it’s trying to say, but doesn’t really seem to care enough to figure it all out. It stops mid-thought on the most of the ideas it sets about fleshing out, leaving the overall experience a miss mash of half-baked ideas, all with potential, none of which have fully ripened. Which isn’t to say the film isn’t fun, at least as much fun as cannibalism can be. On the contrary, it’s quite a bit of fun. There’s more than a few solid laughs to be had and Roth makes good on his promises of blood and gore.
But one can’t quite shake the feeling that The Green Inferno could have, should have been something more. Thanks to the stunningly lush cinematography of Antonio Quercia and the intimate familiarity of the horror genre possessed by Roth, the film conjures up enough atmosphere and aesthetic distinctiveness so as to provide little peeks of what a truly engrossing and toothy horror experience this might have been, had it’s screenplay been fully realized. Alas, what we have here is not that film, and while it is certainly an entertaining hour-and-forty-minutes, it lacks a real bite.