Saturday, November 25, 2017
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: The Green Inferno
This is what it must be like to be Eli Roth:
Hillbilly horror! My favourite genre ever! I’m gonna make a hillbilly horror movie, bitches, and it’s gonna rock!
Makes ‘Cabin Fever’.
Realises he’s trying too hard.
Torture porn! I fucking love torture porn! I’m gonna make the torture porn movie to end all torture porn movies – AND do a sequel!
Makes ‘Hostel’ and ‘Hostel 2’.
Realises he’s trying too hard.
Cannibal movies! OMG, why didn’t I think of that before? Imma be the next Ruggero Deodato!
Makes ‘The Green Inferno’.
Realises he’s trying too hard.
Whether the pattern holds for the erotic thriller and ‘Knock Knock’ is something we’ll find out in the next review. And in the interests of fairness, being Eli Roth probably encompasses a lot of other things, including money, lifestyle, having QT as your best bud, and being married to the not-unglamorous Lorenza Izzo.
Speaking of whom, Izzo is the audience’s surrogate through our 1hour 40 minute ordeal and proves an empathetic heroine even though the script has about as much emotional investment in her character, Justine, as a Tory politician has in the lower and unprivileged classes. We meet Justine at the kind of too-neat-and-clean American university that exists only in the movies. The daughter of a UN official, she’s moved by the activism and general do-goodery of some of the student body, much to the contempt of her room mate Kaycee (Sky Ferreira). In particular, she’s drawn to the swarthy Alejandro (Ariel Levy), a fact noted and frowned upon by his brittle girlfriend Kara (Ignacia Allamand).
The script needs to paint Alejandro as charismatic and impassioned in order to entice Justine into joining his expedition to an under-threat village in the Amazon, only for him to be revealed later as a man of hidden motives and self-interest. This cloak-then-reveal tactic would have required a better script and performance; as it is, we have Alejandro as a moody, self-righteous prick from the outset. Given that Izzo goes all out to sell Justine’s attraction to him, Levy’s non-performance is a drain on hers.
Fortunately, Roth doesn’t waste too much time in getting everyone on a plane and into the jungle. If there’s anything positive to be said about ‘The Green Inferno’, it’s the economy of the storytelling in the first half. Another smart move is to have Justine get the measure of Alejandro pretty quickly, so that she stops being all soppy and doe-eyed and gets her mettle tested in a gruelling tale of survival against the odds. Wait, let me rephrase that: in what Roth achingly believes is a gruelling tale of survival against the odds.
You see, there’s a common faultline in the filmography of Mr Eli Raphael Roth. Like his compatriot Quentin Tarantino, Roth’s films derive from a life-long immersion in genre cinema. Like Tarantino post-‘Jackie Brown’, his films are movie-movies rather than works that make any claim to being grounded in even the remotest facsimile of reality. But while Tarantino conjures non-naturalism into an aesthetic – an auteurist signature – the stories Roth wants to tell would work so much better if the veneer of artifice were stripped away.
Actually, make that two common faultlines. The other one is frat-boy humour. There comes a moment in every Eli Roth film where he makes a directorial decision that functions on roughly the same artistic, intellectual and emotional level of someone photobombing an Allied Press picture of a corpse-littered war zone while chugging a beer and pretending to butt-fuck a giant blow-up sheep.
[SPOILER ALERT: next two paragraphs.]
There are two such moments in ‘The Green Inferno’. One comes almost immediately after Justine and Alejandro, along with Lars (Daryl Sabara) and same-sex couple Amy (Kirby Bliss Blanton) and Samantha (Magda Apinowicz), have been captured by a cannibal tribe and imprisoned in a bamboo cage. No sooner have they witnessed their comrade Jonah (Aaron Burns) dismembered and feasted upon, than Amy suffers a gastrointestinal upheaval. Roth captures this – the first moment in the character’s degradation that leads to her self-immolation – with an over-the-top and extended sound effect, then immediately cuts to a reaction shot of the village children grinning and waving their hands under their noses. If his intent were comedy to leaven the horror, it’s misjudged – not only because it cheapens the ordeal but relies on a gesture I doubt cannibal children would know or have any use for even if they did.
The second is the film’s derailment moment. Recognising that the now deceased Amy is next for the cannibal stew pot, Lars forces down her throat a small baggie of pot which he has concealed upon his person. His reasoning? The tribe entire will feast on her and get high, rendering them incapable of preventing an escape attempt. Quite which branch of forensics or human biology convinced Roth and co-scripter Guillermo Amoedo that a small quantity of mary-jane can suffuse every ounce of a dead body’s flesh – dead body, folks: i.e. no functioning pulmonary system – to the extent that every man-jack of an entire tribe are turned into giggling dopers after two fucking bites, I can’t honestly say, but the resulting sequence is so powerfully stupid that it feels, as a viewer, as if you’ve swerved from a Ruggero Deodato fan-wank tribute to ‘Cheech and Chong Meet the Cannibals’, a comparison strengthened when Lars, his getaway foiled, exclaims “They’ve got the munchies” as he finds himself availed of in the light snack department.
[SPOILERS END, though why the fuck I’m not actively discouraging you from this pile of bum-dung I don’t know!]
‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is nasty as all hell, and that’s its power: it gives the audience no leeway, no comfortable only-a-movie rationale. ‘Massacre in Dinosaur Valley’ is total bollocks that exists as a delivery system for macho posturing, gore and Suzane Carvalho in the buff – and is honest about its intents from the outset. ‘The Green Inferno’ is a misjudged mash-up of the two – and it’s telling that the “history of the cannibal genre” overview Roth slips into the closing credits fawns over ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ but fails to mention ‘Massacre in Dinosaur Valley’ even though he makes more visual steals from that film than any of the other entries in the cannibal cycle. It’s a sad and self-effacing via negativa, akin to declaring your intent to homage ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ but knowing in your bile-embittered heart of hearts that you’re incapable of producing anything better than a hamfisted retread of ‘Ishtar’.