After multiple delays due to financing, The Green Inferno, the latest effort from genre stalwart Eli Roth, is finally getting a theatrical release. A not-so-subtle homage to the infamous 1979 horror-exploitation phenomenon Cannibal Holocaust, the movie takes its name from the film-within-a-film in Ruggero Deodato’s cult classic. Inferno has its fair share of grisly imagery—eye gouging, impaled bodies, and the like—but, shockingly, it doesn’t produce enough of it to instill a real sense of dread. The gore is supposed to be the focal point of Roth’s nightmarish tale, but it takes a backseat to a truly trivial plot line.
Justine (Roth’s real-life wife Lorenza Izzo), a college freshman and the daughter of a United Nations lawyer, becomes interested in a campus activist collective after being drawn in by the good looks of their charismatic leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy); when the group realize that her familial connections could be used to get their message across, she’s accepted as a member. Alejandro soon learns that an oil company plans to decimate a section of the rain forest in Peru, which could endanger the ancient tribe who occupy the area. Without ever really explaining his plans for stopping the bulldozers—except that they should livestream their protest—Alejandro recruits his fellow activists to fly to Peru and expose themselves to life-threatening danger for the cause. Justine, inexplicably now ready to put herself in harm’s way for something she learned about a week earlier, boards a plane with a dozen or so protesters.
Alejandro’s motives become increasingly cloudy once the group touch down in Peru. He’s enlisted the help of a shady local character (Matias Lopez) in order to get the group inside the jungle to the bulldozing site, and casually reminds the college students that armed militias will be ready to blow their brains out at any moment. Despite all of the red flags that pop up around Alejandro, the protest is successful in broadcasting a showdown involving the oil company and their hired guns—although Alejandro uses the situation to deviously exploit Justine’s father’s position of power. Feeling betrayed and foolish, she boards a small plane with her jubilant group to return to New York. A mechanical failure leads to the plane brutally crashing in the jungle, stranding the survivors off the grid. A body-painted cannibalistic tribe soon make their presence known, mistaking the activists as the enemy (not too far off) and imprisoning and brutalizing them back at their primitive village. Thus begins Inferno’s descent into madness and depravity, as the survivors are butchered and cooked by the natives one-by-one. Unwilling to wait for her certain demise, Justine attempts to connect with a young tribe member to facilitate her escape.
Although the film’s marketing boasts that it’s filled to the brim with unwatchable gore, much of The Green Inferno is actually bogged down by dull character interactions. On the plus side, Izzo is capable enough at handling the heavy lifting of acting terrified, as when faced with the horrific possibility of female genital mutilation at the hands of the tribe (yes, this is a real plot development). Meanwhile, Alejandro’s true colors come out during their captivity, turning him into a wholly unlikable character. Yet the largely amateurish acting (hello, Sky Ferreira) and a sluggish pace doom Inferno long before the natives’ bloodthirsty behavior fills the screen.
The Green Inferno is likely to spark an Internet backlash over its crude depiction of indigenous tribes, poorly drawn female characters, and overall detestable content. But it was clearly Roth’s intention to turn the mirror of the PC police back on itself. Inferno tries to stake a claim as a satire of Twitter slacktivism, but unfortunately, the movie isn’t nuanced enough to make a legitimate point or begin a meaningful discussion. The result is a film that will delight Roth’s fan base of gore fanatics, but will be quickly forgotten by everyone else.