Friday, 27 November 2015

The Green Inferno (2015) - Movie Review

I’ve talked before about the confounding writing trend in horror films that says that, because most of the characters are going to die anyway, we shouldn’t be made to have any emotional connection to them. As such, the majority of the main cast is written to be hateful by whatever way possible, usually through the exhibition of utterly misanthropic behaviour. Well, the director of today’s film is one of the forefathers of the style in today’s cinema: Eli Roth. He is also supposedly responsible for the almost-hilariously misnamed ‘torture porn’ sub-genre, alongside James Wan and Leigh Whannell. Now, even though his films may contain some of the most loathsome core characters in film, I do not think he is a bad filmmaker; after all, there were parts of Hostel that I could get into and his work with RZA made for a surprisingly entertaining flick with The Man With The Iron Fists. Well, since this is his first time in the director’s chair since he made the Thanksgiving fake trailer for the Grindhouse film project, easily the best work of his career, let’s see if he has grown at all in that time as he creates an homage to the 80’s Amazon Cannibal sub-genre.

The plot: Justine (Lorenza Izzo), a college freshman wanting to make a difference, signs up to a social activism group preparing to stop a logging operation in a Peruvian jungle. However, as they head back home, their plane crashes and they are found by the native tribe that they were there to save. Unfortunately, it seems that they aren’t about to return the favour as they cage up Justine, the group’s leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy) and the few others who survived the crash. Unless they can figure out a way to escape, they will systematically be killed and served to the natives for dinner.

Within minutes of the film starting, we get Sky Ferreira as the main character’s roommate Kaycee uttering the homophobic slurs that Eli Roth constantly feels the need to inject in his dialogue; calling activism “gay” is hardly a good way of endearing an audience to a film. However, this character is abandoned once the setting shifts to Peru and, for the rest of the film, it is never said again. Hell, one of the main group is a lesbian. I’m not saying this as a means to excuse Roth’s prickish attitude towards screenwriting, but it definitely needs to be brought up in that it shows signs that Roth seems to be improving. Ever so slightly, as that aforementioned character was definitely written with her sexuality in the forefront (i.e. how hacks write LGBTQ characters), but improvement nonetheless.

There’s also something to be said about the ‘message’ of the overall film which, aside from avoiding Slovakia if you believe everything you see on screen, isn’t his usual forte either. The film looks at Western activism, specifically when it comes to interfering with other cultures, and what can happen when it is done without the required knowledge. Now, while I definitely give points for attempting something a bit deeper than just basic goresploitation, I have three very major problems with how it is handled here.

First off, once the team gets embroiled with the cannibal tribe proper, whatever elements of commentary are present become an afterthought in the presence of what other action is happening on screen. It reaches the point where that little effort is made towards it that Roth might as well not have bothered. Secondly, the specifics of said commentary are questionable at best; somehow, I doubt that simply having their activities being broadcast would be enough to stop the militia that are helping the loggers. Finally, and most crucially, it is delivered through quite possibly the most loathsome character of any Eli Roth film. Bear in mind that this is the guy who is at the forefront of the “you are meant to hate them” mode of writing for horror films; I do not give the ‘honour’ of worst character lightly where this guy is concerned.

Alejandro, to put it mildly, is a fucking monster. Sure, he’s a prick and treats his own life and his ‘cause’ as being more precious than anything else, even other lives, but he reaches a special kind of hateful when he *SPOILERS* is seen openly masturbating mere moments after a woman committed rather bloody suicide. In the exact same cage where it took place! Now, knowing Roth’s oeuvre and how he approached this film, I can only assume that this was meant to be funny, as this does place him at a surprisingly cartoonish level of douchebaggery. Unfortunately, this is about as funny as ironically(?) watching teenaged stoners offhandedly refer to things they don’t like as gay because they don’t know any better; the man has a sense of humour that makes Seth MacFarlane look like John Cleese. This hurt even more so by the fact that they made the guy such a raving truther in order to make the commentary stick that, somehow, it manages to further decrease in credibility, even considering everything else we see him doing.

Eli Roth’s strength has always been in his approach to gore and here is no exception. While I would argue that the blood is a little too watery to be entirely believable (when they bother to use non-CGI blood), I still maintain that the man isn’t quite as exploitative as other critics give him credit for. Sure, he most certainly doesn’t hold back when it comes to showing the many layers of flesh beneath the skin in whatever ways he can, but he also knows when to pull back and let the audience imagine the rest on their own. After the initial carving of one of the main group, the other instances aren’t shown in nearly as much gory detail; he made his point the first time around, and he’s smart enough to know that he shouldn’t be repetitive.

However, while I freely admit that these moments could have made for the kind of film that’s worth being grossed out by, they don’t work so well in this film. This is because, while Roth is still very good at showing the red stuff, he still sucks at portraying the whys and whos of each given instance of violence. The main group is that poorly characterised outside of basic labels (The main character, the stoner, the arsehole, etc.) that there is a reason I have just referred to them as ‘the main group’ and not by any of their names. The reasons why they are in their predicament is connected to Alejandro, and he only stands out because of how insanely blunt his character is written. That, and those reasons are rock stupid and contrived beyond good reason. At least he didn’t show actual animal death, like so many old school cannibal films did, so Roth has enough self-awareness to know that there are certain aspects of the sub-genre that most definitely should not be brought back.

If I can give some actual credit to Eli Roth, and trust me it pains me to do so after having seen this, it’s that the portrayal of the Peruvian tribe is actually well done. Considering it is a recurring motif in Amazon Cannibal films to never inform the wider public about their headhunting ways, and to try and make the West look like the bad guys in return, how they are depicted is probably the closest this sub-genre will ever get to selling that idea. Right after the first serving of gore, we see the villagers preparing the victim for food and, in a bizarrely fitting manner, it is depicted as if they are preparing any other animal for feasting. Nothing glorified, no exploitative touches to show that what they are doing is vile; it’s just their way of life. This natural approach is probably helped by the fact that Roth used an actual Peruvian tribe to act in the film.

How he got them to agree to it is through one of the brilliantly messed-up bits of I don’t know what I’ve heard yet: He showed them Cannibal Holocaust, easily the most influential of the Amazon Cannibal sub-genre and one of its likely progenitors. They apparently took the film in their stride and agreed to go along with it. This ultimately brings up the most promising aspect of the entire film: Did Roth get any of this on film? If so, I urge the man to make a documentary about this. Seriously, even with how much I abhor the film proper, looking into the process of it would be fascinating if that tidbit is anything to go by. Even if he didn’t get any of it on film, in a few years, maybe this could be made in a slightly glossy but nevertheless interesting film in its own right. Or maybe I’m hoping for way too much, like my hoping that Eli Roth would be able to deliver effective full-length cinema on his own this time around.

All in all, this is probably Eli Roth’s best directorial effort to date. The production values are solid, the gore effects are mostly good and this is legitimately tough to watch at times; no joke, I actively began to feel queasy while sitting through it. Unfortunately, this is still let down by Roth’s knack for thoroughly repulsive characters, puerile sense of humour and weak plotting that, as the film progresses, bring to question all of the brutality that we are seeing and what purpose it has to the overall film. Then again, this is a tribute to a particularly xenophobic and faux-moralistic exploitation sub-genre in the first place, so this is probably better than it has any right to be regardless. As much as I hate the notion of removing subjectivity from reviews because, quite frankly, it’s impossible, this film ranks higher than it really should purely for objective reasons. It’s undoubtedly a well-made film and it looks very good, but at its core it is rotten and made up of so many things that I don’t want to see in a modern-day film.

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