Uncertain of what horrors The Green Inferno may hold in store? You need not wait long from its opening to get an inkling.
Though the unrelenting gore that one should expect from an Eli Roth film doesn’t start until almost the halfway mark, the opening minutes see lead protagonist and student Justine (Lorenza Izzo) attend a lecture in which she learns about female genital mutilation for the first time. Roth is a smart filmmaker; well-established narrative principles suggest the ugly practice will rear its head again before the closing credits, and the foreshadowing looms over the uneasy audience. There’s no turning back now.
The Green Inferno broadly shares its premise with Cannibal Holocaust, the controversial cult classic (and former video nasty) that heavily inspired this venture into violent horror: a group of Westerners are slaughtered mercilessly by an indigenous cannibal tribe. In this case, the Westerners are middle-class student activists who head from the US to gorgeous Peru to fight private exploitation of native land and find their noble work poorly rewarded.
On the surface, it’s a modernised version of a tried-and-tested plot, demonstrating its contemporary nature by tapping into increasingly high-profile issues like environmentalism, alter-globalisation, and female genital mutilation. On a deeper level, its portrayal of indigenous peoples is still reactionary and dehumanising, even if not so pronounced as in the genre’s decades-old pioneers. That, I suppose, is the contradiction inherent in ‘updating’ a product of the insular and often racist exploitation flick era.
But despite featuring little that pushes the envelope of the cannibal genre and rolling out a number of horror tropes without shame, The Green Inferno is undeniably fun, displaying a great sense of humour while approaching student activism in a satirical fashion that falls just shy of derisory. Roth is a master of unadulterated horror and boasts a robust practical understanding of how grisly effects and black humour are best balanced to elicit a dark chuckle from helpless viewers. Izzo also shows promise as a future scream queen, easily outshining her castmates with an impressive and sympathetic take on her character.
It’s hard-core horror fans that will find the most to love here, and many of them will likely find refreshing its good humour, its strong lead, and a total eschewing of sexual violence as a means to titillate – as blockbuster gore-fests go, it’s less conservative than many others. Genre sceptics, however, should be wary of stepping in; The Green Inferno is not quite sadistic, but it demands a strong stomach. Roth has a reputation to maintain, after all.