Cannibal movies have always taken a bite out of the exploitation genre, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s. Unlike other exploitation fare that features cannibalism as a component, with flicks such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes as examples, the bulk of cannibal movies take place within the African, Asian, and South American rain forests and jungles (although the recent Bone Tomahawk took the genre to the American West). The typical storyline involves delvers of some type invading the territory of some primitive tribe, only to pay the price. These films typically feature all manner of exploitation, from the eating of human flesh to torture, rape, and cruelty to animals in general. The emphasis is on blood and gore, the more real the better. Those interested in this genre would do well to sample flicks such as Il Paese del Sesso Selvaggio, Natura Contro, also known as Cannibal Holocaust, Eaten Alive, and Cannibal Ferox.
Eli Roth cemented his career as a writer-director with his franchise Hostel and its sequels, films that showcased torture and plenty of blood and guts. This series of movies served as examples for what some would go on to call “porn horror.” It comes as no surprise then that Roth would tackle a cannibal movie, and in 2015 (after two years of delays) his movie The Green Inferno was finally released in the United States.
The Green Inferno consists of three parts. The first part introduces the lead and supporting cast, led by Justine (Lorenza Izzo) and Alejandro (Ariel Levy). Justine is a rich kid attending college. As such, she has the time an inclination to be an idealist, and thus she quickly falls under the spell of Alejandro, a charismatic crusader whose latest obsession involves stopping the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Justine eventually joins the band of activists, and as they fly to South America, Justine begins to learn that not all may be as it seems. For example, Alejandro has a girlfriend, Kara (Ignacia Allamand), the whole trip has been financed by a drug dealer, and Alejandro’s motives are not what they seem.
The second part, by far the longest, has the activists’ airplane crashing into the Amazon rainforest, the “green inferno” given the thickness of the trees and vegetation. The crash survivors manage to get out of the plane, only to be set upon by a primitive tribe armed with blowguns and other primitive weapons. The survivors are placed into bamboo cages while being evaluated by female elder and her war chief. Justine is given special interest, but it is the obese activist Jonah (Aaron Burns) who is the first to be dismembered, beheaded, and consumed by the entire tribe, including the children. The following morning, the female captives undergo a painful ritual to test their virginity, where only Justine is shown to be a virgin. While Justine is prepared for genital mutilation (foreshadowed in part one), one of the other females attempts to escape, but she is easily captured. Another activist is forced to undergo an “ant” ritual, where he is strapped to a pole and overrun by hungry ants. The captives are also forced to eat pig meat, which of course is tainted with the human flesh the pigs ate in the first place. Another hideous scene involves the tribe eating alive another activist, Lars (Daryl Sabara). Justine, with the help of level-headed Daniel (Nicolas Martine) finally manages to escape, and although they are almost caught, they are finally rescued.
The third part of the movie shows Justine back in civilization, where she tells her father and other members of the United Nations that the tribe is not cannibalistic and in fact did everything in its power to help her. In one silly scene, she actually morphs into a hideous member of the tribe when a fellow student surprises her. Apparently, Justine is now one with the tribe. In another scene, Justine watches on television as Alejando’s face is now being used on shirts to promote further activism. One morning, she wakes to see yet another group of activists meeting on the lawn outside her dorm room.
In another silly coda shown during the end credits, Alejandro’s sister ends Justine calls Justine and tells her brother is alive. A satellite map of the rainforest appears, showing Alejandro, now in the war chief’s garb, staring up at the sky. Yes, it’s sequel time.
Oddly enough, Green Inferno’s most successful part is the first one. Roth has a knack for writing great characters, effective dialogue, fun scenes, and strong transitions. The undercurrent of humor and satire works well, although some may not like that it is aimed at activism and may be turned off by it. The second part of the movie is not as hideous and bloody as some would want. The movie’s practical effects are good, but the reliance on CGI, particularly during the ant sequence, makes the film feel too hygienic and distant. The third part of the film is odd, as nothing in the first two parts justifies the change in behavior of Justine. The sequel setup is also poorly conceived, as this movie should have stood on its own two feet.
As a whole, Green Inferno is a bit of a letdown. The blood and gore is definitely there, but the movie simply lacks the gut-wrenching tension and fluid-filled suspense that brings to “life” such horrible sequences. Had the movie continued to develop the characters as it was during the first part, perhaps Green Inferno could have achieved visceral horror and, more importantly, dizzying terror. Throwaway scenes during the third part of the movie, particularly the CGI-driven jump scare, do little to wrench up any tension built up in part two. Hardcore cannibal fans will note some technical mistakes, such as mixing headhunters with cannibals and the eclectic collection of weapons used by the natives. These are quibbles, though, as Green Inferno  has several big flaws in plot and character development that are likely to leave most viewers cold and not too much entertained.