Roth’s Inferno a Horrific Descent into Inhuman Madness
For a variety of reasons, Eli Roth hasn’t directed a feature film since 2007’s Hostel: Part II. While he’s done a little acting (Inglourious Basterds, Rock of Ages), a little writing (The Man with the Iron Fists) and a lot of producing (Aftershock, The Last Exorcism, The Sacrament, Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove”), as far as being the driving force propelling a production forward he’s been M.I.A. That changes as of now, two new features hitting theatres and VOD in the next few weeks spearheaded by Roth, his return to the director’s chair very long in coming indeed.
The first of these is The Green Inferno. Originally premiering at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, the Peruvian-set survivalist exploitation thriller was set to hit the multiplexes last September, but for a variety of crazy legal reasons this never happened. Bought back by Roth and executive producer Jason Blum, the movie is the first theatrical release for the latter’s indie distributer Blumhouse Tilt, their other releases (notably Patrick Brice’s terrifically disconcerting Creep staring Mark Duplass) going strictly VOD eschewing theatres altogether.
It’s easy to see why Blum chose Roth’s unsettling, uncomfortable chiller as the one to send out to cinemas because it’s just made to be seen in the confines of a darkened auditorium alongside a squirming audience. The director has honed his craft during his hiatus, and as confident and as self-assured as he was before his filmmaking chops are even more impressive now. He knows how to assemble scenes into an demoralizing whole, his use of splatter and gore as strong, and as disturbing, as it has ever been. Roth ratchets up tension in a way that is devastating, the knots my stomach found itself in beyond anything I could have prepared myself for before watching.
Do not be fooled. This is still exploitation filmmaking. The story of a small group of college activists led by the sexy Alejandro (Ariel levy) who go into the jungles of Peru to stop the bulldozing of the rain forest and the slaughter of indigenous tribes, the film quickly turns on its ear in ever-escalating extremes. After a plane crash over a remote part of the jungle, the survivors, including wide-eyed freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo), discover they’re next on the dinner menu, one of the tribes they were hoping to protect mistaking them for the soldiers and loggers that have been systematically destroying their villages.
What follows is indescribable, and not always in a good way. Roth is still prone to letting his more juvenile, adolescent tendencies get the better of him, and while influxes of humor are welcome the way he goes about delivering on them at times is anything but. Additionally, considering the extreme low budget nature of the production some of the acting leaves a little to be desired, the performances ranging from pretty good to barely passable amongst the primary bilingual cast of college kids.
Then there is the elephant – or should we say panther – sitting in the middle of the jungle. The cannibalistic tribe at the center of things are not made up of professional actors. Instead, Roth went into the heart of Peru and found a real village and a real tribe, the Callanayacu, to star in his film. As effective as they are, and I honestly don’t know how the movie could have been made without them, much like No Escape there is an air of xenophobia permeating throughout that’s unavoidable, and how much that’s going to matter depends entirely on just how politically incorrect a person allows themselves to be.
Those faults aside, The Green Inferno is a barnburner through-and-through. Filmed almost entirely on location, stunningly shot by Antonio Quercia (Aftershock), tensely edited by Ernesto Díaz Espinoza (Mandrill) and eerily scored by Manuel Riveiro (The Stranger), this is still Roth’s show and his expert handling of al the carnage is undeniable. The introduction to the village and their carnivorous appetites is horrifying, while a latter reveal as to the identity of an unexpected victim, leading directly to a shocking suicide, put a lump in my throat I almost had to self-perform the Heimlich on myself in order to get back to breathing somewhat comfortably.
Roth’s next, a home invasion thriller with a comedic bent starring Keanu Reeves called Knock Knock, hits limited theatres October 9, and as positive as early reviews from the festival circuit might be it’s hard to envision it will play near as well as this does. While not without its missteps, and certainly not going to satisfy the masses, for those knowing what it is they are about to see The Green Inferno is about as terrifying an experience as any that can be imagined. I’m not positive I liked it, but that doesn’t make me any less glad I took the time to give the horror effort a look, Roth’s directorial return a startlingly, efficiently brutal reminder of just how strong a genre impresario he can be when he’s of a mind to be one.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)