It’s been a whopping 6 years since Eli Roth of Cabin Fever and Hostel fame has directed a feature. Going into his highly anticipated return behind the camera, I wondered if he still had it in him. Remember, the “torture porn” sub-genre which he helped establish back in 2005 has long become a thing of the past. We’re in an era where popular horror has become all about suggesting violence as opposed to showing it to graphic detail. The Green Inferno is an obvious love letter to the cannibal sub-genre of the 70’s which included notorious classics such as Cannibal Holocaust, Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox. Last year Roth co-wrote and starred in Aftershock which its level of depravity got a lukewarm response from many fans and critics alike. I won’t deny I was skeptical going into this even though I’m an unashamed fan of Roth’s work thus far. 100 minutes later, Roth is not only back in tip top form but may have singlehandedly unleash the rebirth of the long ignored cannibal movie.
The Green Inferno is about a group of student activists who venture into the Amazon to stop the genocide of a tribe. After a super-violent plane crash, the surviving protagonists find themselves in the deadly clutches of the very people they aimed to save. This film has all of the things we’ve come to expect from an Eli Roth picture. His plot structure of choice remains intact. That isn’t a bad thing since that feeling of impending doom that’s awaiting his protagonists only helps to heighten the viewer’s sense of unease. Roth is well aware of this. The first act takes just the right amount of time to establish the characters and setting up the story in a mischievously fun manner. The viewer is having a good time during this set-up period yet all too aware how horrifying fate can be in an Eli Roth film. He cruelly wants you to be aware at all times which in turn ups the tension even in the lightest of moments. That frat boyish comedy predominant in his work has been toned down especially when all hell breaks loose. His darkly humorous sensibility is still intact. It just never takes away from the horror show.
Roth pulls no punches when it comes to social commentary. He cynically aims at all parties, presenting the world at its grayest. It made me think back to my favorite aspect of Cabin Fever; no matter how much you think you know somebody, our instinct for self-preservation will always take precedence. In The Green Inferno, we see examples of mankind’s best and worst, often in a satirical light. Roth’s ensemble lead by the lovely Lorenza Izzo is believable in the face of horror. We grow to like some and despise others, all by the material’s design. There is a shaky performance spot here and there but nothing too distracting.
When it comes to the violence in The Green Inferno, it somehow manages to trump everything Roth has done to date. The film is one of the goriest and most brutal to be seen in an American genre film in sometime…and yes, I’ve seen the Evil Dead remake. While that film is bloodier, there’s a sense of fun when this is all happening. Not always in the case of The Green Inferno. KNB EFX work is easily some of their most realistic and shocking to date. Gorehounds will no doubt cheer as I did by the spectacular showmanship on display yet at the same time, your jaw will drop in horror by the unflinching savagery rained down upon the characters we’ve invested ourselves in. This juxtaposition of emotions is the film’s strongest achievement.
The Green Inferno finds Eli Roth at the absolute top of his game. He is exactly where he belongs; on the director’s chair. His craftsmanship and maturity have grown significantly. As extreme as the carnage gets, Roth maximizes the effect of an image at every turn. He knows when to precisely be visually graphic, as well as restrain if the opportunity calls for it. It’s a shame the movie wasn’t shot on 35mm film. It would have lent a welcoming gritty aesthetic, which the clean digital imagery just cannot equal. In The Green Inferno, Eli Roth and the cannibal sub-genre make a triumphant, long overdue return.