Idealistic young Columbia University student Justine (Lorenza Izzo) is entranced by Chelsea Che Guevara, Alejandro (Ariel Levy), joining his eco-activist group of earnest acolytes and accompanying them to the South American rainforest where they take part in a direct action to against a logging company whose activities threaten the habitat of an indigenous tribe. On the flight back to civilisation however their plane crashes, killing half of the group and stranding the survivors deep in the jungle where they find themselves falling prey to the very tribe of headhunters they were trying to protect. Captured and caged, Justine and her friends can only watch helplessly as, one by one, they are ritually sacrificed and devoured by the tribe…

A homage to Ruggero Deodati’s Cannibal Holocaust and its ilk that’s almost as nakedly earnest in its devotion as its naïve student protagonists are in their idealism, perhaps what’s most surprising about Eli Roth’s cannibal exploitation flick The Green Inferno is just how coy it is, how safe. Growing out of the Mondo film tradition, the Italian cannibal films of the early eighties surfed the video nasty wave and were, for the most part, gleefully repugnant, graphic in their violence, their brutal sexuality, full of murder, rape, lashings of gore and base cruelty. 

Unapologetically salacious and sensationalist, the Citizen Kane of cannibal flicks (and, if we’re being pedantic, the progenitor of the found footage/mockumentary genre of which its still the best example) is undoubtedly Cannibal Holocaust an intelligent, sophisticated, truly transgressive piece of extreme cinema and the morality and ethics of the press and media. A work of metacinema masquerading as grindhouse trash while slyly critiquing Western imperialism and expressly condemning our (the audience and society at large) appetite for sensation at any cost even as it serves us up an overdose, Deodati’s masterpiece is still considered to be one of the most controversial films ever committed to celluloid and is still as grueling and disturbing as it was the day it was made. 

Which brings us to Roth’s The Green Inferno. Well, Roth has definitely seen and, more importantly, loves Cannibal Holocaust. Every year in August, the Edinburgh Fringe is full of American high schools and semi-amateur theatre companies staging early afternoon productions of Shakespeare, Miller and Mamet that play to an audience of uncomprehending Japanese and German tourists, two jellied-up Neds and an Alsatian dog, and, at least in spirit, The Green Inferno feels similar; an earnest and somewhat awed American high school production of Deodati. The Green Inferno is reverent but lacks bite, largely free of the angry political subtext intrinsic to Cannibal Holocaust.

Unsure of his feet when portraying Justine’s college life, Roth is drowning not waving when trying to stage a believable conversation between two female students walking across a New York campus (women have never been his strong point, lets face it), but after a truly distressing, sphincter-loosening jungle plane-crash that’s right up there with the best, Eli’s back on familiar ground as soon as he gets his pretty cast back on terra firma, serving up buckets of gore as his eco-loving do-gooders are impaled by wreckage, walk into propellers, take arrows to the throat, are beaten, tortured, caged, ripped and rended, their eyeballs plucked from their heads and eaten (don’t get too attached to the chubby, puppyish nice guy!), before being cooked and devoured by the tribe, the children decorating themselves with the flayed tattooed flesh of their well-meaning victims. 

While the majority of the cast’s performances are as wooden as Gerry Anderson’s SuperMarionettes, singer Sky Ferreira at least doesn’t make a fool of herself as Justine’s best bud (who unfortunately doesn’t leave NY, probably coz she’d kick cannibal ass…), Spy Kid Daryl Sabara is great as the obligatory wiseass stoner and Roth’s muse Izzo while no great shakes when called upon to walk and talk normally, she’s easy on the eye and sympathetic, at her best when she’s called upon to be terrified and naked. It’s the talky parts she’s not so good at. And as the dodgy self-serving bad guy Alejandro, Levy couldn’t act the goat let alone act the middle class revolutionary and is as wet as an otter’s pocket. On a purely visceral level though, Roth delivers in spades, serving up carnage by the bucket-load, but Roth’s Inferno, like his Hostel movies (but not Cabin Fever which is at least shit-scared of female sexuality), is curiously sexless. I’m not saying I want the characters to be brutally sexually assaulted (honest, I really don’t) but these cannibals really don’t like playing with their food. Which is kinda boring. 

There’s undoubtedly a rich vein of socio-political satire to be mined from Roth’s set-up of nice middle class white kids being used and abused South of the border, it’s just unfortunate that it goes un-dug, Roth’s really not that deep of a filmmaker and Green Infeno’s really not that deep of a kinda film. But it is thrilling. And enjoyable. Even if it does feel a little like the plot is being drunkenly whispered in your ear by the guy in the seat next to you. And you will feel hungry for a pulled pork sandwich immediately after. Cannibal Holocaust on the other hand leaves you feeling anything but peckish.

Movie Review: The Green Inferno
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