Admittedly, I’m not much of a cannibal person. I mean this both figuratively and literally, in the sense that cannibal movies have never really done much for me and I’ve never actually eaten a human being. I can appreciate how sleazy and filthy Deodato made me feel after watching Cannibal Holocaust, but I don’t think I’d actually call the film “good”. I’m much more into something like Ravenous that plays into the mythology of what consuming a person can do to you than thinking it’s gross to see one person eat another. Going into the film, I had pretty low standards, and those standards were definitely met, but that’s still not saying all that much.
After hearing a lecture about female genital mutilation, college freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo) wants to take action to help. The leader of a student activist organization, Alejandro (Ariel Levy), approaches Justine and lets her know that there’s more ways to help the world that just protesting. Alejandro is organizing a trip to South America to prevent rainforests from being destroyed and local tribes being executed, and eager Justine is more than happy to help. Alejandro and Justine, along with a few other students, make their way to the Amazon and quickly learn the danger they are in. Sure, local demolition companies might have thugs with guns, but if that’s not enough, these young college kids realize that primitive tribes are just as capable of horrific violence as supposedly “civilized” populations.
Right off the bat, the characters in this film feel like characters that Roth never got to use in any of his Hostel films. They are shallow, naive, self-centered and ignorant, so knowing that you were going to have to spend at least 90 minutes with these awful human beings didn’t really get me too excited. Even though I warmed up to them by the end, I couldn’t help but think that this film could have been titled something like “Hostel Gone Wild!” or something equally as lame. There were a few interesting dynamics, like the unrequited love that Jonah (Aaron Burns) had for Justine and seeing all of his romantic attempts quickly dissolved, but the abrasiveness of all the characters left me not really caring how terribly they were mutilated. I did appreciate the attempt by Roth to reflect most modern “activists” being more interested in making it public that they wanted to help while not actually taking an active part in helping, but I think this message will be lost on most audiences.
There’s a lot of humor in the film, but again, similar to Hostel, the humor doesn’t necessarily come from a smart script but rather from the ignorance of the characters. It only took about ten minutes before the first character insulted something by calling it “gay”, and while I know that Roth’s personal beliefs aren’t that it’s funny to insult things by calling them gay, I already saw him use that joke in Cabin Fever. Although a character using “gay” as an insult effectively shows you how ignorant these characters are, I think it’s more indicative of Roth’s lack of subtlety in the film’s humor. Sure, these characters react ridiculously to the absurdity of the situation they’re in, but do we need to go so far as to include a scene where a character has explosive diarrhea? SERIOUSLY? Has explosive diarrhea been funny since Dumb & Dumber? I know I never think it’s funny…not that it’s ever happened to me or anything…heh heh…moving on.
There are quite a few “Oh shit!” moments when it comes to the violence portrayed in the film, so kudos to the special effects team. There are limbs being chopped and ripped off, eyeballs plucked out, and airplane sequence that caused the audience to start applauding. Interestingly, it’s not that these effects look at all believable, but rather the effects look like a throwback to all of those old Italian cannibal films where you see people rooting around in open stomach cavities like they are trying to retrieve their cell phone charger from the bottom of a stuffed backpack. Okay, maybe that’s a little specific, but I’ve found myself doing that quite a few times this week. Either way, the gore is a lot of fun and definitely reminds you of how grimy the classic cannibal movies are.
While I was watching the movie, I have to admit that I wasn’t really enjoying it all that much. The whole movie looked overly digital, especially scenes where we saw digital tarantulas, panthers, and ants, and seeing these obnoxious characters get picked off one at a time made me wish things would speed up into a Thanksgiving feast. There weren’t any effects or gags I hadn’t seen before in countless other cannibal films, but then I had an interesting revelation: your average American film-goer has NOT seen shit like this, or anything like it, at their local multiplex. For most of us genre fans, we can see the appreciation Eli Roth obviously has for the grimy cannibal film, but if you ask people going to the theater on opening night who are on their way to see some stupid bullshit like 2 Guns or The Family, they’ll have no idea what Cannibal Holocaust is and probably look at you like a weirdo. This is Eli Roth’s ode to the cannibal film and he makes no effort to class the genre up a bit, so even if I didn’t particularly enjoy the film, I do respect what he was trying to do and can give the film some admiration. Not to mention that the end credits has a long bibliography of films that Roth recommends from the cannibal genre as well as a closing “PER RUGGERO”. Cannibal fans will probably enjoy seeing the amount of blood and guts on-screen at a relatively wide theatrical release, but the film doesn’t really do anything new.
You can also read Mike Pereira’s positive review out of TIFF here.
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