Friday, September 25, 2015

Review: The Green Inferno

by Patrick Bromley
It wasn't worth the wait.

It has taken The Green Inferno, the fourth film from writer/director Eli Roth in 12 years, a long time to get to the screen. It was shot in 2012, premiered in 2013 and was slated for release in September of 2014. Financial difficulties with the distributor resulted in the film being pulled at the last minute, leaving the film's future totally uncertain. Roth went off and made another movie, Knock Knock, in the interim, which is now being released at about the same time that The Green Inferno is finally getting a theatrical and VOD release thanks to Blumhouse.

I have been looking forward to The Green Inferno for the last two years because I still want to believe in Eli Roth. He's a filmmaker who unapologetically loves horror and wants to celebrate it every chance he gets. He has chosen to make a real jungle cannibal film, a subgenre that has been dormant since the early '80s and, according to many sources (among them the excellent documentary Eaten Alive: The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film), wasn't all that well respected to begin with. He does it because he loves these films; in one of The Green Inferno's nicer touches, Roth lists all of the cannibal films that inspired him in the closing credits.

But I was also pulling for him because I'm a fan of his first three movies in varying degrees. I guess it's descending order, because The Green Inferno is my least favorite film Roth has made.
Lorenza Izzo (Mrs. Eli Roth) plays Justine, an idealistic young college student who begins to recognize the superficiality of her own life and is itching to make a difference. She's taken with Alejandro (Ariel Levy), a campus activist who talks Justine into accompanying a group into the Amazon jungle to stand in front of bulldozers and save the indigenous people. Once in South America, the group's plane crashes and strands them with a tribe of cannibals looking to chow down on some American food. Idealism: it's what's for dinner.

I would love to say that all of The Green Inferno's problems are those of tone. And the movie is a tonal disaster; Roth has always shown a penchant for mixing brutal violence with a kind of douchey fratboy humor, but in the past it has worked better because it was an extension of the characters he was writing. That balance is completely out of whack here, though, because the juvenile jokes are butting right up against the horror. There is a sequence -- it's the set piece of the film -- that is so gory and ugly and disturbing that it's genuinely unsettling and difficult to shake off. Moments later there is an extended joke about a character shitting, complete with farting sounds and exaggerated reactions from her friends (this despite the fact that they literally just watched one of their group ripped apart and devoured...but poop is just that gross, I guess). In another film, the moment might be another example of the horrible, dehumanizing experience these college kids are undergoing. In this one, it's just a poop joke. And it's a big part of what's wrong with The Green Inferno.
But the problems go beyond the tone, because it's not as though things were going great before that. There aren't any real characters here, just placeholders. The most we know about any of these people is that one of them is kind of a douche and one likes to smoke weed and one might be gay? This is not a novel problem for a horror movie to have, but it's exacerbated here because we spend a lot of time with these non-characters. Like, a lot. The movie takes a long time to get going. Like, a long time. It's a structure of which Eli Roth seems fond, as his films can often be bifurcated into setup/horror. But at least his previous efforts spent half their running time as goofy sex comedies -- it's not much, but it's something. The Green Inferno has no point of view and seemingly no goal for its first half beyond "get these kids to the jungle." On that, Roth and I are in agreement. When it takes the better part of an hour for that to happen, it's easy to get impatient.

Then the crazy violent stuff starts happening, and that's Eli Roth's wheelhouse. He clearly loves staging gore gags, and The Green Inferno affords him plenty of opportunity for that. His tonal problems resurface occasionally, meaning there are deaths during the plane crash that are staged for laughs when it ought to be harrowing and terrifying. The gags don't release the tension. They undermine it. The practical effects from KNB are incredible and once again demonstrate that it's almost impossible to get an NC-17 for violence, but because Roth can't ever commit to a tone he keeps breaking his own spell. The film has the potential to be great in its second half (enough to overlook the first) had it just pushed the relentless intensity and really become a waking nightmare. Instead, there are CGI ants and someone will die and then a character will start jerking off and it's all so goddamn annoying.
I'm so disappointed with The Green Inferno. As a commentary on misguided idealism, it fails. As a movie intended to scare us, it fails. As a comedy it fails. It is neither satirical nor a cautionary tale. It's not a movie without merit -- the effects, again, must be applauded (nasty as they are) and Roth deserves credit for shooting the film in a South American jungle that has supposedly never been visited by anyone but its native inhabitants. There will plenty of audiences who dig on the movie's wavelength -- who find the comedy funny or who are able to see the whole thing as one big goofy lark (I know this because that's how a lot of the audience with whom I saw the movie seemed to react). I'm not one of them. This is a film that keeps getting in its own way.

 

53 comments:

  1. Well this is a bummer... I wanted to see this but I haven't heard good things for a long time so I'm not surprised. I think the kiss of death for a horror film is tonal problems. This blending of horror and comedy does not work for me (I'm looking at you The Visit and Tusk) and nothing sucks the tension out of horror scene more than when characters aren't taking the situation seriously and are cracking jokes. The best horror comedies aren't trying to scare us (Shaun Of The Dead, Evil Dead 2, Dead Alive) we know we are supposed to be laughing along with those movies. If you're trying to make something horrifying then don't throw goofy humor in just because you can because it pulls me out of your movie every time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I ended up liking it maybe a fraction more than you did, Patrick. It's rough, but I'm giving it a pass for being rough because Italian cannibal movies are all pretty rough. I was looking forward to this movie just as much as you have. Yeah, it took two years to come out, but that's not the movie's fault. I don't think it's fair to expect more from it just because it languished on a shelf for such a long time. Ultimately, I thought it was okay. I think what Stephen King said about the movie was accurate. He said it was a trashy throwback to the drive-in movies of his youth. Everything that it is, problems and all, are indicative of anything the drive-in had to offer back then.
    I was confused about Justine's motives for joining the group. At first it seems she got involved because she was lusting for Alejandro, except in every scene she's in with him, she seems to like or even respect him less and less, leading me to believe she joined to make a difference in the cause, and that it was his stance that she was enamored by. If she was there because she had a thing for him, wouldn't she have walked away the minute she saw him making time with somebody else?
    This is the second film Blumhouse has acquired for distribution that has a gag (pun... intended?) involving number two. I wonder if that's going to become a Blumhouse Tilt staple.
    I think I was expecting the film to be on a certain level gorewise while I was watching it, that now that I think about it, it could never hope to achieve, even with a hard R rating. If at all, it passes for an introduction to the Italian cannibal subgenre (as opposed to a movie that took the subgenre to the next level), which the title list during the end credits certainly seems to illustrate. The dedication to Ruggero Deodato at the very end was a sweet gesture, I thought,
    although I left the theater hungry for more. I think I will see it again. I'm curious to see how it'll play to a larger audience, an audience of newbies. Fresh meat, if you will.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would have had the same problems with the movie had it come out two years ago. The delay isn't a factor in my reaction; just trying to provide some context.

      Delete
    2. Gotcha. I don't doubt you would have had the same problems if it had come out when it was supposed to; I had some of the same problems, and I was trying to keep my expectations in check. The social commentary did work for me, and I'm accepting most of the tonal issues as symptoms of the Italian cannibal horror exploitation aesthetic. The biggest problem I had, other than that one major gore setpiece, whenever the film tackles each of the usual cannibal movie tropes, it doesn't go far enough. Maybe there'll be an unrated cut on the Blu ray. If not, I'll settle for a commentary. For my money, any Eli Roth commentary is worth the price of the video.

      Delete
    3. ** Where I said I accepted most of the tonal issues as symptoms of the Italian cannibal exploitation aesthetic, I probably should have said exploitation aesthetic, period.

      Delete
  3. The "delay" might have been attributed to issues regarding P&A but it's obvious it had everything to do with the film itself. After Eli Roth's last two writing gigs: "Aftershock" and "The Man with the Iron Fists", I think his success outside of working with Tarantino is at a standstill.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If it had to do with the film itself, I doubt Blumhouse would have devoted as much money as they did on such a heavy marketing campaign. It probably would have just gotten dumped onto video. He still has Knock Knock coming out theatrically in two weeks, which, like The Green Inferno before it, is co-written by the director of Aftershock.

      Delete
    2. Well, in order to recoup any money, the new distributor had to push the marketing as "See the movie Hollywood did not want you to see." Desperate.

      Delete
    3. Maybe in the 70s but there are no more exploitation films being made anymore. Only retro wannabe grindhouse films.

      Terry Gilliam has said time and again when a studio uses that to advertise, it's because they have no other way to sell it.

      Delete
    4. I have to respectfully disagree to a point. Yes, there are a ton of wanna be throwback exploitation films, but there are PLENTY of exploitation films being made these days. Thing is, we will know in 20-30 years which ones they are. I would guess Jupiter Ascending will be one of them :)

      Delete
    5. I love Terry Gilliam, I'm a Terry Gilliam fan. However, Terry Gilliam says a lot of things I don't agree with, and that would be one of them. I have to agree with Chaybee. Exploitation films -- or, if you like, neo-exploitation films -- are most certainly made today, and across the entire budgetary spectrum. The grindhouses may be gone, the drive-in as it once was may be a distant memory, but the types of movies that played in those venues are still being made today. And Jupiter Ascending is a perfect example of a modern day, big budget B movie.

      Delete
    6. I do, however, disagree that it will take 20-30 years before we can identify the exploitation films of today. B movies are made at every point of the budgetary spectrum nowadays; and exploitation films ARE B movies... with exploitable elements. What are those exploitable elements? Well, here at F This Movie we celebrate them every day of Junesploitation. Or, just do a Wiki search of Exploitation Film, they have their exploitation subgenres pretty well catalogued.

      Delete
    7. You have a point there, I just think of the films that my age demo recognizes as "true exploitation" films now and they were about that long ago.

      Delete
    8. Let me take that back - and holy shit do I feel old - they were much longer than 30 years ago. Geez...sometimes I forget that 30 years ago was 1985. That feels like F-ing yesterday to me.

      Delete
    9. I'm a month older than JAWS. Believe me, I know how you feel.

      Delete
    10. Haha, I feel you, man. So, I would say maybe exploitation films come when they come. Meaning, an exploitation film needs to evolve as one and just happen organically, not be intentionally created as one, as least not now. I do think that many exploitation films from the grindhouse, drive-in and midnight showing days were absolutely created AS exploitation films but at the same time, something like Massacre Mafia Style was straight up trying to be a legit movie but is viewed now as an exploitation film.

      Delete
    11. Evolve? No, not really. They're just movies within exploitable subgenres. If Duke Mitchell made Massacre Mafia Style to capitalize on the violent mafia/crime films in Italy and the building success of The Godfather in the States, and only played circuit by circuit, state by state, then it was an exploitation film from the get-go.

      Delete
    12. I found a listing for Massacre Mafia Style in the Psychotropic Encyclopedia under one of its other titles, The Executioner. It was also known as Like Father, Like Son. That was the custom in the 70s for exploitation films on the grindhouse and drive-in circuit -- screen it under one title in a city or two, and when it isn't doing well with under the title, change the title when it hits the next state.

      Delete
    13. Psychotronic Video Guide, I mean. Sorry.

      Delete
    14. I still think that film is entirely about duke Mitchell's life. No doubt about it, He wanted to make a godfather movie. A real movie. I don't think he was making an exploitation movie at all, therefore, yes, it evolved into one. That's just one example. Was Last House on the Left made as an exploitation film? I would argue not at all. The flipside would be something like Hot Dog the Movie. Not a great example but it's the first that came to mind.

      Delete
    15. That is not to say that exploitation films aren't "real" films. They very much are and just as important.

      Delete
    16. The Psychotronic listing calls it semi-autobiographical. Being semi-autobiographical doesn't make it any less an exploitation film. Even the most serious biopic is a dramatization, and not a hundred percent what one would call "real." Unless by "real" you mean serious.
      And Last House on the Left IS an exploitation film. Exploitation films can be serious films too.

      Delete
    17. You don't think exploitation films can have serious themes?

      Delete
    18. Of course they can, most all of them do! We must have different definitions of an exploitation film. To me, you have ones that aren't supposed to be. They are supposed to be serious movies, like Jupiter ascending, but they evolve into being an exploitation film. Same as last house and mafia massacre. Then you have ones that are made to be exploitive for the simple sake of being just that. Take Rape Squad for example. That is a serious movie with a serious subject. The film was most likely viewed as a piece of garbage upon release but now it's viewed as a classic of the genre. But I wonder if the filmmakers are unhappy with it being recognized as an exploitation classic as opposed to a straight up classic. I'm guessing their goal was to make a film taking a serious story and not expecting it to evolve into what it has become.

      Delete
    19. ...And you also have ones that were made to be exploitative from the beginning such as Riki-Oh or The Brain that Wouldn't Die. Maybe I'm crossing intentional camp with exploitation.

      Delete
    20. Wow -- you went all over the map! Okay, here goes. An exploitation film doesn't evolve into an exploitation film. An exploitation film is an exploitation film because of its content. But up until 1975-1980, around there, exploitation films and B movies were only made by small studios, with miniscule budgets, until the major studios saw an advantage to be had, and started making B movies and exploitation films themselves. Jupiter Ascending is not an exploitation film. Jupiter Ascending is a B movie. A big budget B movie, but a B movie nonetheless. It's like Flash Gordon with an A budget. The Last House on the Left was made with the sole intention of driving its themes home with intense violence. It's the rape and revenge plot of Last House on the Left that made it an exploitation film. It was the sadism and cruelty depicted in the film that made it an exploitation film. Because without big stars, they needed a way to hype their movie, and only the film's content could do that. A movie like that wasn't going to play in the mall theaters like the big studio movies of the time. It was going to play in drive-in theaters and the grindhouses. Once movies like JAWS, Star Wars, and Friday the 13th were coming out of the big studios, B movies and exploitation films were no longer relegated to ghetto cinemas. The studios saw a buck to be made, and then threw more money at them, and saw bigger returns. Whether the movie was serious or not wasn't the issue; the movie's genre and content were the issue. Science Fiction, Horror, and Western were B movie genres whether they were "serious" or not, simply because they came at the bottom half of a double bill. A movie like Rape Squad, however, is an exploitation film because it was a low budget rape/revenge film, no matter how "serious" it might have been deemed. It didn't have name stars, it had to rely on its sensational content to get it screened, so its advertising had to reflect its content, its subgenre.

      Delete
    21. So, really - they are all exploitation films. I honestly have no more energy to retort buddy. I don't agree with some of this, but who gives a fuck :)

      Delete
    22. Huh? No. I never said they were all exploitation films. Jupiter Ascending isn't an exploitation film. It's a big budget B movie.

      Here:

      Delete
    23. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/B_movie

      Delete
    24. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploitation_film

      Delete
    25. https://youtu.be/8z2nDlAvmZM

      Start playing this at 5:20.

      Delete
    26. I'm just confused by your belief that time is a determining factor in what makes an exploitation film an exploitation film. Time really doesn't have a factor in what makes an exploitation film an exploitation film. I don't know where you gleaned that from, or who told you that. It's just simply not true. An exploitation film is determined through content. Very specific content. Whereas a B movie is determined through genre. Horror, science fiction, Westerns, mysteries, thrillers, action, adventure. Those are B movie genres. The only things time has a factor in determining are film movements ("this was the golden age of 'this' or 'that'"), and whether a film has reached cult status. What you've been saying does make sense if you're talking about cult movies.

      Delete
    27. But a filmmaker cannot make a movie "as" a cult movie. The audience makes a movie a cult movie.

      Delete
    28. Yes, "cult" should have probably been the word I used when writing about "Jupiter Ascending" and films becoming "cult" over time. And yes, I agree that a filmmaker cannot make a cult movie (and it's embarrassing when they try to do so)

      I think what I was trying to say is that these films evolve over time and can become something different. My use of the word "Exploitation" could have been incorrect but I'm still not so sure. Robocop was a smash hit in the 80's and very reflective of that time, even progressive. Now, who knows how the youth views Robocop? As a B-Move with shitty effects? They certainly don't know who Nancy Allen or Peter Weller are so they are no-name actors to them. It definitely contains all of the exploitation elements. So is it the same movie it intended to be? Perhaps it was not created as an exploitation movie but now has become one? Did Craven and the studio expect Last House...to be a huge smash and an important film now? I don't know the answers to these questions, I just like thinking about it.

      I think we still have different views on exploitation. If you look at the Wiki definition it's basically posing an argument that almost every film could be an exploitation film. The point of any studio is to make money. What's trendy=money=exploitation. So, I don't believe that B-movie genres are always separate from exploitation. "Mockbusters" are by definition exploitation.

      Anyway, I like the discussion. Get's the old brain working.

      Delete
    29. Exploitation films have evolved to a certain extent. The way Star Wars and JAWS convinced the major studios to start making B movies with A budgets, you get Paramount picking up a movie like Friday the 13th to distribute, it succeeds, other studios take note, trends begin to form, and the business evolves. The days where exploitation films were only low budget are gone. The major studios have even incorporated exploitation marketing into their business model these days. The remake craze going on today is most certainly one of the ways the exploitation film has evolved. The studios pick catalog titles that have pull with foreign investors, and those are the movies they remake. Hollywood always made remakes, but they only started making them with this current fervor when Platinum Dunes proved it could be so incredibly lucrative. And it doesn't surprise me that it was Michael Bay's company steering the ways. Michael Bay is bar none the most successful big budget exploitation filmmaker working today. His whole aesthetic is exploitation, and he doesn't water down his aesthetic for anybody or anything. In a sense the Transformers films are already carsploitation movies by design, but in his hands, those movies represent not just carsploitation, but sexploitation, blaxploitation, hicksploitation, revenge... I could probably go on. Moving on... yeah, mockbusters are another new subgenre of the exploitation film, absolutely.
      Yes, of course, the point of every studio is to make money, and that involves exploitation. The focus of the business has always been to make money, but it's only recently, say, in the last 30-40 years, that the hucksterism of the mini-majors and the B movie distributors of yesteryear have become the norm in the Hollywood studio system. The only thing that would classify an "exploitation film" today, at least in the traditional way, would be those exploitable elements, those exploitation subgenres.

      Delete
    30. Well put, sir. And good observation on Michael Bay - completely agree. Fired up for SMM tomorrow! I got a ton of random stuff to watch!

      Delete
    31. You mention Robocop. Robocop doesn't suddenly become an exploitation film because the youth of today grit their teeth at all the stop-motion effects or don't know who Peter Weller or Nancy Allen are. There are some who do consider Robocop an exploitation film due to the violence. As for the actors, ever since exploitation films started getting distributed and then made by the major studios, seeing name stars in such films was not unheard of. Peter Weller and Nancy Allen were already making science fiction films already anyhow -- Buckaroo Banzai, Strange Invaders -- so it wasn't out of the ordinary for them to be in Robocop. And I don't think all the exploitable elements went past Paul Verhoeven. He knew exactly what kind of movie he was making.

      Delete
    32. In interviews all the way up till his death, Wes Craven has always been surprised at the staying power of The Last House on the Left. After its release, he's said he wished the movie would just phase into obscurity. He made it on a lark. Sean Cunningham thought the two of them should make a horror movie; Sean would produce, Wes would write and direct. Sean made a joke that Wes's religious repression would come in handy. Wes wrote the movie having never written a screenplay before. He directed it having never directed anything before. He approached it like a documentarian, and the gore was meant to comment on very political things -- but Sean and Wes knew they were making a movie that would only be playing the grindhouses and the drive-ins. The last film they worked on together was a porn movie -- Sean directed it, Wes edited. Wes and Sean made Last House on their own and then shopped it around to distributors. Hallmark Releasing, who distributed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, were the ones who picked it up. From the beginning, Wes and Sean's intention was to make a hardcore, graphic film; i.e., an exploitation film. But they never had any idea how notorious or successful the movie would become. No filmmaker ever really knows.

      Delete
  4. And we've got another delay - just read that the VOD release today got pulled and the new date is TBD. Doomed movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder if last night's box office had anything to do with it. I don't even know if that would be a factor. I'm just guessing. Maybe last night's numbers were below expectation and they don't want to take away from the initial theatrical take?

      Delete
  5. I remember listening to Killer POV and one of them was talking about it. I remember one of them saying, "just wait till the fart jokes start happening." Ugh. It makes me feel bad that there's a horror movie out in theaters that looks actually different and I don't want to see it. But I don't want to see it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, Elric said that. Elric detested the movie.

      Delete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  7. David Edelstein, the critic who coined the term "torture porn" upon Hostel's release, actually gave The Green Inferno what certainly sounds to me like a good review. I am seriously shocked.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is very disappointing...

    ReplyDelete
  9. Also: is there any way to see "Eaten Alive: The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film" outside of the buying the 3-disc Blu-Ray of Cannibal Feroux?

    ReplyDelete
  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry, I realized there were spoilers in my comment.
      The first hour was rough, I found myself getting antsy because I've been watching this cannibal movie for 45mins and there was yet a cannibal to be seen! The exposition presented in the first 45 was unnecessary and the movie could have easily started at the round table meeting they have in south America right before they set out.
      I agree the brutal killings were steam rolled by the horrendously ill placed comedy.. seriously.. a shit joke, a jerking off scene, and damn it! if I'm gonna see genitals in a movie they better be getting bit off!
      That "twist" at the end had no other purpose but to assure there would be a sequel and to me that's a major sin.. I don't know of its because I climbed on the hype train but I left disappointed because you could physically see the potential this movie had.. and it's almost like he intentionally set himself up for failure..

      Delete
  11. I have nothing to add, its all been said above, its a shame as we don't get many films like this, lets just hope Knock Knock is going to be good. Ive not given up on Eli just yet

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me neither! I can't wait to see Knock Knock. I'm going to pop in my copy of Death Game to prep for it.

      Delete