Sunday, September 27, 2015

Review: The Green Inferno

Version I Watched: Theatrical release.

History: Outside of the obvious, there are many ways this film has connections and references to the classic yet controversial horror movie Cannibal Holocaust. It is one of Eli Roth's favorites so this was and is destined to be homage to that, among other Italian cannibal films from that era. Even the title itself is a reference to the 'film-within-the-film' in Cannibal Holocaust.
To obtain authenticity in Roth's vision he chose to shoot on location in Peru and some areas of Chile. The jungle natives in the movie were actual villagers who lived there, had never been filmed or photographed, and didn't even know what the concept of a movie was. In a display of how different their society is, at the end of filming the village offered a two year old child to the production designer as a way of saying "thank you" for allowing them to participate. The offer was declined, naturally.
The film premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. It participated in some other festivals following that. At one of those later screenings, the one in question in France, an audience member literally fainted.
It was originally intended to be released in the US in September 2014 but was pulled a month before due to financial difficulties with the production company. It was eventually releases a year later.
The reviews have been mixed to negative, holding a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5.7/10 on IMDB.

Personal History: I remember hearing about this when it was first coming around, but not sure what to think. Eli Roth hadn't come out with anything new in a while and his mixed track record didn't exactly have me jumping out of my seat. I mostly wondered if it would be a less intense copycat of Cannibal Holocaust. Then as it came back into the limelight and I learned more details, like using REAL natives from where they filmed, got me much more interested. I was plenty excited to see this theatrically, which is saying something because I don't go out to the theatres nearly as much as I used to.

Review: Paying homage to an older story, movie, whatever it may be is something that starts with good intentions. If you dig deep enough you'll likely find out that some of your favorite titles may not just be based on older works, but have specific elements thrown in as a way of paying homage to an older piece of work. Heck, one of my favorite Ghibli movies (going a different direction for a moment) Ponyo is a huge love letter to The Little Mermaid.
Despite good intentions, sometimes knowing ahead of time something is a direct response or love letter to an older title can damage it's reputation, begging for comparisons. I don't know if it's because these homages are getting worse these days or if it's because our natural reaction is to think the filmmaker is saying "this is my version of [insert movie here]."
Well in a way that's something I was worried about going into The Green Inferno. Having seen all of Eli Roth's other movies multiple times I'm very familiar with his work. He loves the guts and gore. It did not surprise me he chose to make a cannibal movie because of his love for Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, and other Italian cannibal movies from the 70's and 80's. While these are things I can naturally assume based on who Eli Roth is and his body of work, I wish I didn't know these things ahead of time.

Here's the thing... Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most vicious, violent, and disturbing horror movies ever made...

Surprising... I know.

So when a modern filmmaker tells the world how much they love these older movies, one that were highly controversial and couldn't even be shown in modern mainstream theatres without cuts then it gives them too high of standards to reach simply because they said they liked a movie. Not to mention Eli Roth has some pretty inherent issues with his stories and they're plenty present with The Green Inferno.

The biggest issue I had with the story was the issue I had with Hostel. None of the characters were likable, relatable, or felt worth saving. Yes there are movies out there with characters that have those same traits but at least the characters in those other stories are more interesting and make the ride more interesting and satisfying. These idiots on the other hand...
So the story goes like this. A group of college aged activists plan a trip to South America to protest the destruction of a large chunk of rainforest and prevent the deaths of the natives that live there. I wasn't opposed to this idea. I thought it was actually kind of clever, not really seeing that sort of idea in horror movies often. Usually it's a bunch of drunk idiots on spring break stumble upon monsters or murderous psychopaths. So this was pretty cool. If only the characters were worth our time.
The other issue, and this is seen a lot generally in horror, not just in Roth's flicks, is that it takes waaaaay too long to get to the cannibals. We all know why were watching a cannibal movie. To see some cannibals. But we don't get treated to the natives until nearly the half way point because Roth felt it was necessary to spend more time with these one dimensional characters, even killing off a couple of them in clumsy ways.

In horror, in action, in so many genres that exploit their movie on posters as horrific, action packed, whatever, why does it always take so damn long to get to what people paid to see? That's why Crank is in my top 5 favorite action movies of all time. It takes all of a minute to get to the action and it does not let up til it's done. It's (almost) literally a non-stop action thrill ride. Then with horror there are examples like Saw that cleverly told exposition in flashbacks while bringing us into the horror right from the start.
Is it because there's not enough material to stretch the actual horror elements out to a longer runtime? Do each of these horror movie filmmakers all think that taking their time to get to the real meat of the movie will pay off? If anything it only makes me more anxious because this kind of horror is the kind that's in your face violent. It's not exactly slow or subtle.
This is an unfair comparison but one horror movie that KILLED IT with a slow pace was the recent It Follows. That was a dynamite flick with great scares and it needed to take it's time. In The Green Inferno I felt like I spent a lot of time waiting for something to happen, and then when it did I felt somewhat disappointed.

It's such a shame because the parts with the cannibals I enjoyed quite a bit, for the most part. The fact that Roth gathered actual natives, who have never been filmed or photographed before, added something unique to this movie that wouldn't otherwise be seen. They felt natural in their surroundings because, well, it was literally their natural surroundings.
What's even crazier is not just how foreign they felt, but also how, in a weird way, normal they felt at times. One of the most unique elements of this horror flick was after they make their first cannibal kill.
They take the guy who is basically the closest to being the most likable and go through what you'd expect from a horror like this. Tear out his eyes and tongue, cut off his limbs and head, all while he's still alive. Pretty intense and graphic stuff. But then it cuts to the villages cooking and preparing the body as if it were cow, pig, or any other choice of meat. It's handled with such a casual approach that it made me think of comedies that play their performance straight and lets the comedy come out of that performance.
A scene later the village is gathered together eating the cooked body. But it's not like a bunch of zombies attacking a living man with blood and guts everywhere. It felt more like a picnic. Something that I couldn't decide was either unintentionally hilarious or disturbing because of how calmly it's played out. Either way I thought that was a really nice touch.

If only we got to spend more time with the cannibals here. There were some other great moments that did feel worth my while, even if one of them was caused by some of the stupidest logic I've seen in a horror movie, but the end result was what I was looking for so I can't complain too much.
Even the ending was pretty dark. I don't want to give anything away, but the person you expect to survive definitely does survive, and then the way it plays out from there was pretty cool. Naturally it sets itself up for a sequel. Something was already rumored to be in production, which is now rumored to be on hold. Likely because of the financial difficulties the studio ran into that caused the one year delay of The Green Inferno's release.

I know I expected this to be something it never would be. I definitely set myself up for disappointment. I did feel it could have pushed the envelope more. Despite all that it was still a unique enough experience that didn't feel neutered. It was still viciously violent when it became violent. Plenty dark when it needed to be. It just had too much going against it between the bad writing, pacing, and dangling fruit in front of us only to give us a small bite without fulfilling the promise I felt it stated in the first place.
I wouldn't say it's bad. In my eyes it was 'meh' with some cool stuff in the middle that will make a matinee or redbox rental worth your time. Like one reviewer said, it won't bring anyone over to Roth's movies, but it should satisfy the gore lovers that already like his movies.

Good thing it only cost $6 million to make. I don't see this being a big success.

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