SEPTEMBER 23, 2013
During the Q&A for The Green Inferno, an audience member asked if the Peruvian government had given Eli Roth and his team any sort of grief over their portrayal in his newest film, and the filmmaker practically laughed. He then explained that their government doesn't care, that they understand that it's a fictional movie and that you'd basically have to be stupid to think it's a proper reflection of their country. It was a relief to hear, especially when you consider that Wrong Turn, a movie even more ridiculous than this one, caused some official from West Virginia to denounce the film at the time of its release, while assuring the rest of the world that folks wouldn't run afoul of mutant hillbillies when entering his state. It wasn't even shot there!
But it's a fair question, because Green Inferno is very much in line with films like Cannibal Holocaust and The Man From Deep River, both of which (and many others) the victim of much scrutiny and outrage - some of it even deserved. Those films have their fans (I enjoy most on my one viewing; I rarely have any desire to revisit them), but are largely considered to be trash thanks to some unfortunate storytelling decisions - i.e. a lot of rape and the on-screen murder of a few animals. Add in the usual approach to Italian genre filmmaking in that era (basically, rip off and top the guy who did it before you) and you can see why the sub-genre has been dormant for so long - who could possibly get away with such a thing in this day and age?
Eli Roth, of course. He's been MIA from the director's chair for far too long (six years, not counting the Hemlock Grove pilot), focusing mainly on acting and producing, and to his credit he didn't dip his toes in the shallow end for his comeback - he dove right in and has delivered what may be his most violent film yet. It's certainly got the biggest body count: our protagonists are a large group of activist college students who fly to the rain forest to prevent their destruction, only for their plane to crash (a horrific sequence that provides a few of the film's gory deaths) and to find themselves captives by a tribe of natives who look at a human being the same way we look at a cow or pig.
So in some ways it's directly in line with Roth's Hostel films - once again Americans go to another country and get killed by locals (you can even reduce it to "if you travel you will die" and include Cabin Fever in the group), and with the previously mentioned films (and the more extreme Cannibal Ferox) being an acknowledged influence, one could levy the complaint that there's no new ground being broken here. But that's not true - this film will be going out on just as many screens as his other movies, a luxury never afforded to Ruggero Deodato or Umberto Lenzi. This will be the gateway film for many audience members, and Roth is happy to introduce that subgenre to newcomers - the end credits even list the primary entries one should seek out in chronological order. I can honestly say this has to be a first - I don't see Scream or Hatchet's credits encouraging viewers to go back and see the original Halloween or Friday the 13th.
Also, it's the first I've seen that can be considered "fun". It can be grim at times, but there is thankfully no sexual violence of note (the head woman of the tribe checks to see if any of the girls are virgins, but it's not graphic and most certainly not misogynist in tone), and the local turtle population didn't have to worry about any of the actors chopping their heads off on camera. The cannibalism is in line with the others, but Roth's usual gonzo approach to kills (and the makeup FX by the similarly minded folks at KNB) keep it from being too unpleasant an affair, and there's even a damn poop joke to lift our spirits. Hell he even holds back at times; at least one major character's fate is left open ended, and another one is killed off-screen (with proof of her demise executed not unlike the "I never sliced anyone" bit in Rocky Horror Picture Show). I'm not saying "Bring the kids!" - this movie definitely earns its R rating* - but Roth clearly wants the audience to have a good time, something that is next to impossible for even a genre audience with something like Ferox.
This was a make or break film for Eli, as far as I am concerned at least. Hemlock was nearly unwatchable, as was his production of Last Exorcism II, and I wasn't overly thrilled with Aftershock (which showed at last year's FF). But this (and The Sacrament, which he also produced) has put him right back around the top of current genre heavyweights. And even better - he seems HUNGRY; I don't think we'll have to wait another six years for another film (though I was disappointed to hear he's working on a sequel to this already - I guess Thanksgiving is just never going to happen), and he is forming partnerships with other filmmakers like Nicholas Lopez and Aaron Burns (who was the 2nd unit director here and plays the film's most sympathetic character besides our heroine, the daring and lovely Lorenza Izzo) to keep those creative juices flowing. Welcome back, sir.
What say you?
*This was the R rated cut; not sure if there IS an unrated one but Eli claims that he had a very good experience with the MPAA on this one.