“Green Inferno is my mic drop.” Director Eli Roth, a filmmaker known for lending a hand to up-and-comers, may have gained a reputation as more of a producer as of late, but now the Splat Pack member is back with a fiery vengeance, and he’s parked up front and center in the director’s chair. That’s right, the man who brought us such bloodbaths as Hostel I, II, and the 2002 cringeworthy, phobia-filled Cabin Fever, is back to shock and disturb audiences with arguably his most crimson-covered feature to date: The Green Inferno. Set deep in the heart of the Peruvian jungle, the film follows a group of collegiate activists who make it their mission to rescue an indigenous tribe from the persecution of their imperialistic government, which seeks to tear down their trees and destroy their land. Infuriated by their peers’ lack of action, and fueled by the need for stardom, the young students seize this opportunity for martyrdom, and fly from the safety of their dorm rooms at Columbia University into unfamiliar territory. What they find when they get there is that despite their attempts to help these natives reclaim their home, in their blood-soaked, hungry eyes, these kids are nothing more than meal tickets.
Since The Green Inferno mainly takes place in the exterior locations of the Amazon rainforest, it benefits largely from its surroundings. Using the jaw-dropping, gorgeous South American scenery provided some breathtaking cinematography. It was so impressive to Roth that he firmly believes that his director of photography should be given an award. “It’s a very beautiful film, like this is the movie that should be up for best cinematography at the Oscars. People will never do that, because they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s too bloody’, but ours has spectacular, gorgeous, beautiful cinematography”.
Aside from creating memorable imagery, the jungle’s unbearably humid locations helped to create a sense of urgency and terror through the torture of the cast. “You kind of have to be a trooper to go down there” star Lorenza Izzo states with a sense of pride. After surviving the trials of the amazon, she, along with the cast, has undergone a rite of passage, and came back a little tougher than when they left the states. “Most of the time you were either fighting and struggling with bug bites that you couldn’t stop scratching” remembers Izzo, “The heat was so suffocating, you would sometimes pass out. That was very common.”
One of the most difficult moments during filming for lead Izzo, a.k.a. Columbia freshman Justine, was her day spent down in the river. Apparently, much of the terror on her face stems from real fear, not acting. As Justine floats down the river and clings to a rock for dear life in the midst of whipping rapids that seek to drag her downstream, actress Izzo truly is screaming for help, as she really believed during these terrifying moments that she might actually die during the making of this movie. “There were a lot of challenges and daily struggles, and the river scene, you know there were very strong moments that were like, “Oh my god, what am I doing? Oh my god, I’m gonna die” reminisces Izzo as the same panic seen onscreen now fills her eyes as she recounts her thoughts during her near death experience. “Oh my god, I’m gonna die in the jungle, and no one’s gonna find me because this river is too frikkin’ strong. No one’s gonna find my body because it’s going to be in pieces.” Her crew members were apparently so enthralled with her performance, they were too invested in the scene to pull her out of the stream. “No one listened, because they were like, “Oh my god, Lorenza’s acting is great!” Laughs Izzo, “and I’m like, I’m gonna die. This is it, and no one’s paying attention because they’re so into the moment.”
Daryl Sabara chimed in with his own personal memory from filming, “And I had a slight arachnophobia and I had to get over it” winces Sabara, “because my character has a really nice scene with a tarantula! So yeah. But that’s over with.” At this moment, co-star Kirby Bliss Blanton leans over to lend a pat on the back and provide some words of encouragement to her fellow amazon trekker, “You conquered your fear.”
Blanton would know a thing or two about overcoming frightening obstacles, since she arguably endured an even worse interaction with a creature of the jungle. On day five of shooting, the assistant directors approached Roth and informed him that the village children had proposed an idea for the movie. Roth, smiling slightly as he speaks, looks off into the distance as he recalls the day the kids stood in front of him holding a baby python and asked if they could throw it at one of his actors. “They thought it’d be funny if they threw it in the cage with the Americans!” remembers Roth, “and I was like, ‘That’s actually a really good idea! Who wants to get a python in the face!?” After it was agreed that it would be Blanton who was to be tormented by the snake, she paused for a moment before the cameras rolled to question about whether or not the snake was poisonous. Roth, unsure himself, asked the natives. “I’m like, ‘Is it poisonous?’ and do the translation, and they’re like, ‘No, no, no, it’s a python’ and Kirby’s like, ‘But it could bite me!’ and they were like, ‘Well, yes, but it’s a baby python. It won’t hurt.” The whole cast laughs as Blanton and Roth exchange a look that says they’ve seen the darkest depths of the amazon together, and lived to tell the tale. Roth goes on to praise Blanton with the utmost respect as he proclaims, “But she took a python in the face!” Clearly, this director couldn’t be prouder of his pupil, and although she may be admittedly somewhat traumatized, Blanton beams and nods, pleased with the results of her bravery.
On perhaps the most memorable day of the shoot, Roth and the gang received some unexpected guests on set. “We’re in the village, and we’re shooting the first scene where everyone’s tied up in the canoes, it’s probably a hundred and twenty degrees, burning sun, and all of the villagers, there’s like a hundred and fifty of them, they’re coming over the hill and we’re there, we’re in the jungle, and we got a machete, and I’m about to yell, “Action!” and no one’s doing anything” says Roth excitedly. “I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ and these like pontoon boats pull up and they’re full of Christian missionaries from a super church in Texas.” Apparently, the missionaries had no idea that Roth would be filming a horror movie in that area. “They see what you see in the movie, they see the tied up Americans, they see the natives on the hill with the spears, they see the hanging on the spikes, and they’re like, ‘El diablo! El diablo!’ and I was like “Oh my god” Roth laughs. He then tells of how his crew spoke with the missionaries to explain the situation: “and they came out, and they were like, ‘No, it’s not the devil, it’s Eli Roth. It’s the guy, you know the guy from Inglourious Basterds with the bat? The Jewish guy? He’s shooting a horror movie here!’ and they were fucking pissed”.
To the naked eye (or to unsuspecting Christian missionaries), it may have looked like Roth was doing nothing more than filming a sick and twisted gory movie, but the truth is that when he set out to make this film, he was inspired by more than the urge to spill gallons of fake blood. When asked about the driving force behind the script he wrote with co-writers Nicolas Lopez and Guillermo Amoedo, Roth explains how he was heavily influenced by the universal outrage over Kony 2012 that was showcased by social media. “Green Inferno, it really came out when we were seeing this kind of Twitter shaming going on. I remember after we finished the draft of the script, we were all getting on a plane and all of a sudden our Twitters were blowing up with ‘Kony 2012! What’s wrong with you? Haven’t you heard? How could you, don’t you care about child soldiers!?’ and I was like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ It’s like everyone got this high and mighty, self-righteous attitude about something that they hadn’t heard of twenty-four hours earlier”.
Not to be considered anti-activism, or anti-internet, Roth clears the air by describing how its the few “slacktivists” that grind his gears, not true activists that honestly work to help a cause. “I think that social media is an amazing tool,” explains Roth, “But you see, the kids in The Green Inferno, it’s not that they care about saving the rainforest, they care about being recognized for caring.” Roth goes on to discuss how the wrongdoing isn’t in the protests, but in the attention-seeking that has come to characterize many of the so-called activists of today’s generation who pitch in by sitting behind their computer screens and retweeting a caption about a cause that they haven’t even bothered to research. “When they’ve made it, when CNN retweeted them, then they’re happy, then that’s the party. They made the home page of Reddit! Boom! …And those are the people that I want to see crash” Roth says jokingly, “I want to see them get eaten by people!”
When questioned about the upcoming Cabin Fever remake, Roth says assuredly that although director Travis Zariwny will be working off of the same script that Roth wrote when he was twenty-two, there will be minor changes to the plot. “Travis had a really interesting visual style and visual take and he wanted to change the deaths so that people knew the movie, but so that you could still have surprises, and I think he did a terrific job”. Not wanting to hover, Roth has remained a supportive to Zariwny, without pressuring the prodigy to stick to the structure of the original film. “I looked at a cut, and gave him some notes in editing, but I really didn’t want to be around” Roth claims, “I feel like I’m so associated with that movie that in this case, my presence on set would actually hurt it. I told him, I was like, ‘Change whatever you want. This is your movie, and this is your vision of the script. This isn’t like Eli’s Cabin Fever, like go, have fun with it, and make it your own film”.
Roth has become an important icon in the horror industry of today, not only for his reputation as a master of gore, but because of his inclination to help out those who are just starting to get their footing in the film world. By taking notice of rookie filmmakers and helping fund independent cinema, Roth is using his fame and accumulation of monetary stability like a Robin Hood of sorts, as he invites other, newer members to join the club. His latest addition to his long list of good deeds is his laid back, yet helpful attitude towards the Cabin Fever remake, and towards director Zariwny.
Although it’s always exciting to see a veteran filmmaker helping out the younger generation, as a personal fan of Eli Roth and rated R, made-for-adults movies, it’s thrilling just to have Roth back in the director’s chair, where he belongs, scouring the globe for secretive unscathed shooting locations, offending the locals, and making great horror movies.
The Green Inferno hits theaters on September 25th, 2015.