A couple scenes from Eli Roth’s newest (but not so new, as it was caught in distributor purgatory for a while) splatterfest, “The Green Inferno”, oddly recall the meat-tossing bit from 1994’s “PCU”, a slacker comedy condemning half-cocked, cause-of-the-week protesters seeking recognition for their “awareness” and advocating the “anti-protesters” who torment them. A far worse fate awaits the do-gooders in Roth’s film, who take action against greedy corporations in the Amazon only to become dinner for the indigenous tribes they’ve travelled there to save. Because the locals couldn’t give a rat’s ass about their cause: these natives are hangry, and it couldn’t have been a worse time for the small plane carrying naive student Justine (Lorenza Izzo) and the activist group she’s joined, which is led by dreamy crush Alejandro (Ariel Levy), to crash in their backyard.
While their gruesome reception could partly be explained by the group’s arrival in yellow construction duds, which is part of their plan to sneak in and thwart the bulldozing of the rainforest by streaming the devastation live on the internet, the cannibalistic rituals that follow depict a race of feral creatures that exist only to maim and torture. The villains, for lack of a better word, are painted from head to toe (Ramón Llao, pictured, plays the head of the welcoming committee), and use human skulls as sconces on their bamboo front-porches, lending a kind of macabre curb appeal to their modest dwellings. Remnants of the last group of meddling Americans to stroll through, perhaps?
Maybe an egregious misrepresentation of the region’s inhabitants, but it’s an effective horror fiction nonetheless. Roth’s film doesn’t expand much on this agenda outside of skewering privileged cause-heads who either aren’t educated enough to know what they’re getting into, or are just plain stupid (or both), in a fashion so extreme, and with such an absence of humanity, that “Inferno” might draw more parallels to an alien abduction flick than a cannibal movie. There are undeniable moments of dread, typically followed by cringe-inducing gore, and some awkwardly placed humor (in an attempt to escape, the prisoners stuff one of their departed comrades with marijuana in hopes of getting their captors high). When it comes to eyeball gouging, limb severing (and worse), Roth delivers what I can imagine was only marginally trimmed down to avoid an NC-17 rating, out-grossing (and probably will outgross) his “Hostel” films by a long shot. Our victims — not the indigenous folks threatened by big businesses that seek the vast supply of oil under their land, but the kids on their menu — are flat and obnoxious, save Izzo and Nicolás Martínez, both playing the most intellectually well-equipped of the bunch, but still not sharp enough to survive even your most textbook slasher flick. This sometimes seems intended as comedy and sometimes…. not.
And not totally their fault. The dialogue, written for them by Roth and Guillermo Amoedo, often sounds like it was concocted by a grade-schooler. A bad guy emerges from the lineup of soon-to-be human entrees to reveal an obvious ulterior motive to their journey, just before gratifying himself in the least sexy scenario imaginable. The most likable guy (played by Aaron Burns), a cherub-like fellow enamored with Izzo’s character, meets his demise early in a scene that will undoubtedly be the most difficult for mainstream audiences to stomach. Subsequently, female genitalia is mutilated in tribal ritual, something that a dissertation early in the film somewhat prepares us for. (It is what I imagine a Roth-directed PSA would look like). Aesthetically, “The Green Inferno” is far too well-produced to be mistaken as the work of Italian gore schlock maestros behind films like the notorious “Cannibal Holocaust” that inspired it (Antonio Quercia’s lensing is magnificent), but Roth’s most ambitiously nasty effort to date proves visceral and shocking enough in its own right to be categorized as at least a marginal horror success.