I’m not quite sure what Eli Roth was trying to achieve with The Green Inferno. Is it a faithful tribute to the cannibal flicks of the late 1970s, with their colonial-tinged exploitation crossed with the mixed emotions and morality of their protagonists? Or simply a crowdpleaser for gorehounds, with a deliberately hate-able cast for whom we’re just counting down the minutes till they’re slaughtered by the film’s ‘real’ heroes?
At least with the acme of the genre, Cannibal Holocaust, we’re mostly oblivious to the main characters’ true intentions until late in the film, where it turns the story on its head and packs a proper punch; it’s hardly profound, yet it feels like they made an effort.
But from the outset of The Green Inferno, Roth gives us no reason to feel any sympathy for these people: they are invariably privileged, entitled college brats (and terrible actors to boot) who take far too literally their potential to change the world for the better and go blundering in where they really don’t belong, suffering consequences they don’t exactly deserve, but in their inexcusable ignorance have brought on themselves. Their inevitable infighting, designed to sway our sympathies towards the ‘right’ protagonists, is ultimately futile because they’re all fucking idiots.
Forty minutes in, the film whacks us in the face with a grab-bag of Final Destination tricks before it turns into a torture-porn marathon, making a mockery of any vague pretensions to worthiness that even themselves are irresponsible (there’s an early reference to the barbarity of FGM but solely for the shock value, missing the point – despite a character blatantly asking – that it’s about control of women, a marker of virtually every society on earth). And if you think I’m being harsh saying ‘mockery’, Roth does it himself with lame toilet jokes belying any real attempt to provoke substantial thought.
Speaking of thought, there is no subtext; it’s all shoved right in your face. That’s because Roth doesn’t want to make you work (beyond maybe a passing familiarity with the cliffnotes for Moby-Dick). It’s all about getting that audience reaction. If it takes, say, baiting feminists? So be it. Not that there’s anything wrong with provocation in principle; I’m not about to disparage the William Castles of this world, because at least those cheap-trick productions often had merit as cinema.
But apart from its stark colour palette (the alienating contrast of red against green is simple but effective) I can’t in honesty point to anything of merit in The Green Inferno. Horror, even exploitation cinema, can do – and has done – much better than this. Maybe this is exactly what Roth was trying to achieve, because it’s all he’s capable of doing?