In Defense of The Green Inferno

The key to enjoying Eli Roth’s cannibal opus is seeing it as the homage it is. The Green Inferno doesn’t take itself seriously and neither should you. Let’s pay a gross-out visit to the Amazon before summer ends!

Eli Roth is a cannibal exploitation lover and it shows. He drew freely from many earlier movies to make his love-letter to the genre and it’s fans. If you love the films of Lenzi and Deodato you could make a hefty checklist of The Green Inferno’s knowing nods to its predecessors like Eaten Alive and Cannibal Holocaust. At the same time, he keeps things lighter than most with his own original touches.

During the cannibal boom of the 1970s and 80s Italy churned out flick after flick about hapless Westerners heading into the wild jungle to be devoured. They set up tropes that others would capitalize on for decades. Several of these films’ production and release were concurrent with fresh scholarly research on actual indigenous communities of the Amazon. That research revealed aspects of Amazon culture shocking to many- it wasn’t an innocent, peaceful world untouched by Western brutality. These cultures were as complex as any other, and included plenty of violence. This, on the heels of the trend of gonzo pseudo-documentaries, led to the big question of what was real and what wasn’t.

Despite arriving mid-boom, Cannibal Holocaust caught major attention due to its deceptive realism and scathing, meta social commentary. Audiences and censors just couldn’t keep track of what was real and what was staged, especially with the partial film-within-a-film structure. The hype machine lives on in YouTube comments every time someone reuploads the movie. People still think they’re watching actual footage the entire time. But it’s an Italian actress in one extreme scene and a random crew member in that iconic impalement image that has come to define the movie if not the entire subgenre.

Hype was king in the early 70s/80s cannibal exploitation world. Before release, posters and trailers screamed their realistic savagery. After, many countries seized or banned the films under anti-obscenity laws , placing them among the “video nasties” alongside many other exploitation films. Obviously this made them more notorious and sought after.

According to Eli Roth, The Green Inferno would be the goriest, most realistic cannibal film ever made. He even titled it after Cannibal Holocaust’s film-within-a-film. Roth claimed he and his producers discovered a pristine Amazonian tribe who didn’t even know what a movie was! He showed them Cannibal Holocaust, and they laughed and laughed. Of course, they’d be in his movie! Look up these untouched natives on IMDB– there’s plenty on their resumes. Of course, Roth didn’t set out to seriously deceive anyone. It’s all in the interest of genre fun.

Green Inferno’s student activists are all pretty obnoxious in their own ways. Justine at least, like Sheila of Eaten Alive and Cannibal’s Gloria, has good intentions. She’s ignorant but humble unlike the other vapid coeds who follow Alejandro. The disgustingly self-righteous activist leader, like the documentarians of Cannibal Holocaust, is in it for the notoriety. He asserts that only Twitter shaming will end cultural rituals that wealthy American college students find icky. He wants attention for his group and is more than willing to martyr his followers to get it. Alejandro is a nod to the ultimate selfish bastards like Mike of Cannibal Ferox, even sabotaging his fellow prisoners’ escape attempts so he’s not left alone. He, not the so-called savage cannibals, is the actual villain here.

Sometimes you just hate on a character for being so dang useless, (looking at you, Pat of Cannibal Ferox). One of the funniest bits of The Green Inferno has to be watching Amy have a complete meltdown in the midst of a mob of tribeswomen who want to pet her long blond hair. We get the requisite macho men, a bit subverted though, in Daniel and Lars. They literally throw themselves over Justine in an attempt to protect her. Alas, a heroine needing a man’s protection is the way of the subgenre if a bit outdated.

As you’d expect, Green Inferno’s cannibals appear to do little but await their next human meal. It’s a hallmark of the genre- they just go for it with utter abandon. Perfectly edible cows stand around, but nope. Witness Jonah’s immediate slaughter upon entering the village. They don’t even undress him before chopping off limbs. Later, Roth uses some irony to lighten the de rigueur scene of someone being eaten alive. (Surprisingly, there’s only one of these. Not counting Jonah who might have still been breathing when the tribal leader ate his eye.) Stoner Lars is eaten by two cannibals who’ve “got the munchies” from eating Amy’s marijuana-laced corpse. Roth errs on the conservative side with torture scenes, keeping it to Daniel’s final ant ordeal.

Instead of the oft-used trope of “pretty native woman sets handsome man free”, we get Justine bonding with a child of the tribe. Scenes when she plays her tiny flute necklace for the girl are actually tiny respites from the gore. This is just one instance where Roth made his movie more, um, palatable. (Sorry) Most of the previous genre iterations involved some hefty misogyny and emasculation in equal measure, but The Green Inferno is better for its lack of them. The threat of female circumcision isn’t in the same category. The tribeswomen plan it to honor Justine, her lack of consent notwithstanding. So it’s easier to just have fun with the film. I mean, who hasn’t wanted to see a bone ripped out of an aggressor’s septum piercing?

Harking back to earlier film’s social commentary, The Green Inferno has a message for the “civilized” world. Gloria (Ferox) is willing to end her career by denying having seen a single instance of cannibalism in the jungle. Justine, realizing that Alejandro had been just as exploitive as the companies he protested, does the same. Robert Kerman closes Holocaust by wondering “who the real cannibals are.” We all know.

As summer closes I still give The Green Inferno a 10/10. Watch it at the next summer bbq