Seriously, it’s hard for me to think of any recent film that has made me cringe as much as Eli Roth’s cannibal epic, The Green Inferno. A film about a bunch of Occupy activists who end up getting eaten by a native tribe in the jungles of Peru, The Green Inferno does not shy away from showing us all the icky cannibal action. Eyes are scooped out of heads. Heads are removed from bodies. Flesh is ripped off of a bones. Blood flows everywhere and …. well, let’s just say that I didn’t have much of an appetite after watching The Green Inferno.
And, to be honest, I have no idea whether or not the gore effects were realistic or not. It always amuses me when some of my fellow film bloggers say, “That’s not what the inside of a human body really looks like.” Like we would know! Listen, I have no idea what it’s like to cook a human body and I never will. It may have been realistic or it may not have been. It doesn’t matter. All I know is that, in a very visceral and frightening way, the effects worked. They made me look away from the screen. They inspired me to say, “Agck!” and I imagine that’s the exact response that Roth was going for.
If The Green Inferno was a box office success, I imagine that thousands of people would leave the movie and promptly google, “Can you get cannibals high by stuffing a baggie of marijuana in a dead body?” (The Green Inferno certainly argues that you can but it also suggests that, once a cannibal tribe gets the munchies, bad things will happen as a result.)
However, I doubt that The Green Inferno is going to be a box office success, at least not during its theatrical run. The film was originally made in 2013 and it’s taken two years for it to finally get a theatrical release and it’s pretty much being dumped into theaters with little fanfare. Not surprisingly, it’s currently getting slammed by most mainstream critics and it’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t review films online waking up and spontaneously saying, “I want to see that movie about people being eaten alive!” (Myself, I had no great desire to see it but I felt somewhat obligated, considering that I’m a self-described grindhouse fan and horror lover.) Jeff and I saw The Green Inferno on Tuesday, at the Cinemark 14 in Denton, Texas. The theater was nearly deserted.
And, in many ways, it is a difficult film to recommend, though that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s not an easy film to watch but it does what it does well. Back in the day, many grindhouse films were advertised as being “a film that goes all the way” and, for better or worse, The Green Inferno goes all the way. At a time when so many horror films are either watered down or just the usual found footage rehash, The Green Inferno is a film that actually made me squirm in my seat. It’s a film that delivered exactly what it promised and that does count for something. The Green Inferno is being advertised as being nightmare fuel and that’s exactly what it is.
(SPOILER ALERT! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU’RE GOING TO WHINE ABOUT SPOILERS AS A RESULT!)
There’s an interesting and unexpected political subtext to The Green Inferno and, I would argue, that political subtext is exactly why so many online critics are having such a violently negative reaction to the film. The Americans who end up getting eaten by the cannibals are all Occupy-style political activists. The reason that they are in Peru is to protest a company that is chopping down the rain forests. When they do their protest, they all wear masks (which makes the Occupy comparison obvious) and they use social media to make sure that the whole world is watching. It’s only later, once the surviving activists are all locked away in a cage and waiting to be eaten, that they learn that their leader, the arrogant Alejandro, was actually working for a rival logging company. And now, they’re desperately waiting for that rival company to show up, tear down the rain forest, and save their lives.
And, oh my God — some reviewers (mostly the ones that write at sites like the A.V. Club) are so upset about this! But, honestly, those reviewers are missing the point. The Green Inferno is not attacking the politics of the activists. Instead, the film is attacking the shallowness of the activists themselves. Almost all of them are caucasian, all of them come from privileged backgrounds, and all of them are so high on their own self-righteousness that they don’t even realize that they’re being manipulated by the same system they claim to be destroying. And, just like the college students who spent a few months doing the Occupy thing and then went on to get a job on Wall Street, they ultimately expect the system to protect them even as they play revolutionary. At the end of the film, hundreds of new white, privileged protestors are wearing t-shirts decorated (Che-style) with Alejandro’s face. It’s a deeply cynical vision of political activism but, in many ways, it’s far more realistic than a lot of people want to admit and it makes The Green Inferno a bit more interesting than your typical gore film.
(Add to that, there are thousands of movies about heroic political activists so what’s wrong with having one film where they all get eaten in the Amazon rain forest? Seriously, it’s not the end of the world…)
Admittedly, the film does make a huge mistake. It features a mid-credits scene which sets up a sequel. (And a sequel was announced way back in 2013 but has apparently been abandoned.) That mid-credits scene — which feels more appropriate for a Marvel film — is totally unnecessary. There’s no need for a sequel. The Green Inferno accomplishes exactly what it set out to do.