The Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival is currently celebrating it’s 25th year in providing horror and shock cinema fans alike with films borne from their ever-waking nightmares. One of the films among the line-up this year is Eli Roth’s first directorial feature since 2007, The Green Inferno. I got the chance to attend the first-ever screening of the film this past Saturday night with Roth and the cast in atttendance, and it’s safe to say that the flick is very much an Eli Roth film. Now it’s time to discuss whether that’s actually a good thing.
As a fan of Cabin Fever, which just so happened to makes its debut at Midnight Madness back in 2002 and thus launch the career of one Eli Roth, it’s safe to say I was anticipating his latest horror venture. Although I have yet to take the journey into the Hostel universe, there’s something about Roth the person that makes him an interesting and compelling figure on the horror scene. With The Green Inferno, Roth is paying homage to the many exploitation flicks he watched growing up, most notably ‘the most controversial movie ever made…’ Cannibal Holocaust (1980).
The story of the film begins with our protagonist, New York City college student Justine (Lorenza Izzo), waking up to the sounds of a group of student activists protesting from the campus lawn. Soon after, fellow student Jonah (Aaron Burns) approaches her with the possibility of joining an activist group, headed by resident asshole Daniel (Nicolas Martinez) who just so happens to be the object of Justine’s affection. Justine attends meetings and is soon convinced to join the group on their journey to the Amazon to protect a native tribe from the construction groups tearing down their jungle home. It’s safe to say things go wrong, as the group crash lands in the jungle and find themselves being held captive by the very tribe they swore to protect.
- The Tribe – While the first half of the film is solely focused on the dynamics between the group of activists in addition to their mission, the second half is when the fun really begins. As we meet the tribe and learn more about their way of life, the tension builds and their cannibalistic instincts become abundantly clear. Roth creates an incredibly unsettling mood to the proceedings, particularly when the activists arrive at the tribe’s camp. As they are surrounded by the hundreds of cannibals it’s hard to not feel an incredible sense of claustrophobia as their hands reach out for the students and rip and tear at their clothing and flesh. And yeah, there’s even a scene in which the tribe gets high.
- The Gore – Following the activists’ capture we are immediately treated to our first cannibal consumption and it’s safe to say it’s not for the faint at heart. Even I who claim many gore-fests amongst my favorite horror flicks experienced a slight gag reflex when witnessing the tribe tear the flesh from their first victim. If you’re a blood thirsty horror fan, it’s safe to say you’ll get your money’s worth.
- The First Half – As I stated previously, the first half of the film chooses to focus on the characters and their interactions. In the Q & A following the film, Roth discussed how spending time with Quentin Tarantino really influenced him in taking his time with character development. Although the first half of The Green Inferno is certainly an attempt at doing this, it’s not a very good one. Not only is the film dull for an incredibly long stretch, we also spend time with lackluster characters who seem to only be on screen to constantly annoy the hell out of you.
- The Performances – Now look, I completely understand the tradition of sub-par acting when it comes to horror films, but the problem with The Green Inferno is that so much of its running time hinges on the actors that it’s nearly impossible to overlook their flaws. I can handle stupidity in horror films as well, but there comes a point in time when supposedly intelligent college activists need to show their worth, and there’s absolutely none of that on display here.
- Lack of Originality – My biggest issue with The Green Inferno is that it really reeks of been there, done that. When there are other horror filmmakers out there, such as Ti West, who are bringing a streak of originality to the genre, it’s hard to understand why bigger time filmmakers like Eli Roth seem dead-set on repeating old horror cliches and conventions. Roth stated at the screening that the idea for the film came when he was discussing with his friend the idea of what would happen if a tribe of cannibals got high. Now, that particular sequence in the film is one of the stand-outs, but it’s also one stand-alone scene. If the film hinged on this, my experience overall may have been entirely different, but when a scene of originality is surrounded by an endless parade of horror cliches it’s incredibly hard to find yourself enjoying the journey.
While my experience at Midnight Madness was certainly a great time thanks to an energetic crowd and a cameo preceding the film by none other than Bobcat Goldthwait, Eli Roth’s latest film ultimately left a lot to be desired. Sure, The Green Inferno essentially does what horror fans expect from a cannibal horror flick, it just doesn’t do it in a very interesting or compelling way. Following the film, Eli Roth and his cast took part in a Q & A which honestly was the highlight of the night. In it, Roth stated that in this case of guerilla filmmaking the stories about the making of the film are often more interesting than the film itself. Well Mr. Roth, I honestly couldn’t agree more. The stories behind The Green Inferno are much more interesting than The Green Inferno itself.