The Green Inferno (2015)

Guess who just got back from seeing Eli Roth’s latest. Yep, that’d be me. This isn’t a complete review, as I’m still processing the film, but I wanted to write down some of my initial impressions.

First off, I did some research into the film’s somewhat complicated production history to determine that yes, all of the actors were fairly compensated for their work. One of the points that have been touted around about The Green Inferno was Roth’s use of native Peruvian villagers as actors, many of who had never seen a movie before. From what I’ve been able to dig up, everyone was compensated by union standards, the whole process was democratic and entirely voluntary, and all of the actors understood what they were getting into in the first place. It also appears that some of these actors have moved on to other pictures, including Antonieta Pari, who had an incredible screen presence for a first-time actress. I’m in the process of looking up her other film, and hope to see more of her if she decides to continue in the industry.

Coming out of The Green Inferno, I can see why a lot of people disliked it. A film like this just isn’t easy to sit through. Some art is pleasant to look at, and some pieces hit you repeatedly in the face with their ideas. For better or worse, The Green Inferno fits the latter bill. Two people walked out of the screening I attended. Eli Roth’s style is a mix of in your face brutality and cutting social commentary that sometimes get lost under the weight of all the gore. A lot of audiences just don’t have the stomach to sit through one of his films. And make no mistake, The Green Inferno is one of his most brutal. There are scenes of dismemberment, torture, cannibalism, and wanton mayhem, among other things. Eli Roth said that a lot of the actors wanted to be covered in fake blood during the shooting, and it’s very clear that they went through a ton of the stuff in the process. The Green Inferno is bloody, hard to watch, and at times just flat out disgusting. Not everyone, even regular horror fans, is going to be able to sit through it. That’s just the long and short of it.

And yes, this film is art. I will fight you on this.

It also relies heavily on the assumption that the view knows enough about current events, grindhouse horror, and the controversy surrounding its clear inspiration, Cannibal Holocaust to keep up with all the ideas the story is juggling. Above all, The Green Inferno is a horror film made for horror fans. I might go even further and say that The Green Inferno was made for horror scholars, though I’ll admit that most horror experts wouldn’t consider themselves scholars in the traditional sense. The casual viewer risks missing a lot of the nuance without doing some research beforehand. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – lots of genre films tell stories specifically for their longtime fans. However, it does lead to instances where audiences critique the story as senseless and disgusting while ignoring the very real ideas the film is trying to work through. That’s a risk that Eli Roth took going in with a project like this, and the controversy surrounding the film had to be expected.

To his credit, Eli Roth has been incredibly nuanced and respectful in his responses to the arguments that have cropped up since he first announced the project. It’s worth looking at some of the interviews he’s given concerning The Green Inferno. These two are interesting.

I guess now would be the time to give my opinion. While I’m still in the process of figuring out a longer answer to that, I’ll say that I liked it from an analytical standpoint. I’ve been a fan of Roth’s for a long time, and I’d say that this is one of his most thought-out projects yet. It’s also one that poses a lot of questions and leaves them for the audience to ponder, rather than trying to force a perfect solution in at the end in the style of your usual, Hollywood blockbuster. However, I am aware of the complications of a white, American director telling a story about Peruvian villagers terrorizing (mostly white), rich American teenagers – and my own perspective on this, as a white, American, middle class audience member. We all come into films with an agenda, and we always leave with an opinion on the one portrayed on-screen. I appreciate that Roth didn’t try to squeeze in an answer for all of the questions he posed, something that I admire about his work as a whole. In his films, it’s enough just to ask and wonder. The world is too big and strange to solve with a single answer. But isn’t it cool that we get to have the discussion in the first place?

On a technical level, the film was well shot and the scenes of the jungle were absolutely beautiful. Still, I’d argue that the scenes done in the marketplace were the best of the film, with the careful color balance and juxtapositions of modern and seemingly “traditional” objects. I also liked the hand-held shots that popped up in moments of fear and confusion, which gave the film a cluttered, disjointed feeling to match what the characters were feeling. The Green Inferno is a visually complicated films, with a tendency to cram a lot of “stuff” into the frame and leaving the viewer to decide on their own what to look at. This is a stylistic choice I’m not usually fond of, especially in horror films, but it worked strangely well here.

I’m also curious about the inclusion of the two lesbian characters, who did eventually die, but seemed to have one of the only healthy relationships in the story. There was also the implication that one of the women, Amy, was mentally ill, though this wasn’t fully explored within the story. It’s something that’s popped up before in Roth’s work, both the surprisingly (given the genre’s reputation) positive treatment of queer women in his narratives, and the inclusion of a female character with mental illness. I haven’t come to any conclusions about this just yet, but the inclusion of these characters is interesting to me. I shall give this more thought.

There’s still a lot to say about The Green Inferno. I hope to continue on with the discussion. It’s not a film for everyone, but if you can sit through it, then come talk about it with me.

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