When a film stirs controversy, you must first consider who’s pissed off by it or trying to manufacture the illusion that their film is stirring controversy. Broadly speaking, you can tell which films are truly subversive based on whether they affirm establishment narratives or defy them. For example, in the case of the Ghostbusters remake, it was patently obvious that establishment media went out of its way to portray criticism of the film as irrational, hate filled backlash instead of reasonable people who saw it as another lazy, opportunistic exercise in social justice revisionism desperately trying to be edgy gender swapping. On the other hand, if the criticism is directed towards the film itself and includes accusations of “racism”, “sexism” or “misogyny”, chances are good that it’s pissing off the right people and is probably genuinely subversive in one way or another. The Green Inferno is most definitely in the latter category and is a giant middle finger held gleefully aloft at the current trend toward Hollywood social justice activism and political correctness.
Most films made these days have a political editorial of one form or another, and anyone who thinks that horror is just pure exploitation isn’t giving the genre enough credit. Horror has the potential to deliver a biting commentary that other genres can’t touch, and The Green Inferno is one of the finest exemplars of this phenomenon. Needless to say, the entire film is a giant piss take on social justice activism and social justice warriors, but it succeeds so brilliantly because it attends to the twin mandates of good filmmaking: tell a good story and respect the tradition to which your film belongs.
The Green Inferno is your basic take on the cannibal-horror genre which tells the story of social justice activists who set out to save a Peruvian tribe and things go horribly wrong. Horribly, terribly wrong. It undoubtedly draws inspiration from films like Cannibal Holocaust, but the fun of The Green Inferno is all in the setup and the ultimate payoff.
The victims in horror films in the slasher genre meet their inevitable demise at the hands of the killer generally for exhibiting an excess of stupidity, hubris, or naïveté. This simple storytelling hook can give the filmmaker ample opportunity to comment on any social or political phenomenon he pleases. In this film, Eli Roth uses this device to maximum effect.
When the film opens, we are introduced to college student protagonists, Justine and Kaycee. After leaving a class where they are horrified to discover female genital mutilation practices in African and Middle Eastern countries, the roommates pass by a group of social justice warriors agitating for free health insurance. From the thrift store garments to the dumb slogans to the mindless fist pumping chants, Roth invokes the stereotypical AnCom/Bernie Sanders/OWS/Greenpeace leftist douchebag perfectly. Justine catches the eye of charismatic leader, Alejandro, but Kaycee snaps her out of her hypnosis and warns her not to get involved with guys like him. They leave the scene of the protest with Kaycee contemptuously pronouncing the activists “gay”.
Justine receives an invitation to join the activists from one of Alejandro’s amiable but vacant underlings who hands her a flyer which appropriately reads “ACT! Don’t think”. Justine attends the meeting, but is immediately expelled for the insolent microaggression of speaking out of turn and triggering everyone in the group. She is eventually invited back because Alejandro is intent on working his faux-Che Guevara routine all the way into her pants. In the second meeting, Alejandro sets up the gambit. Go to Peru, prevent the evil corporation from destroying the habitat and indigenous tribe by strapping themselves to bulldozers, transmit the incident to social media, attract global sympathy and government support, and everyone goes down in #hxstory. Justine is sold. She ignores the warnings of her bigwig UN lawyer father after taking his money, and joins her merry band of SJWs on the flight to the rainforests of Peru to Change the World®.
Roth smuggles in little pieces of editorial at unexpected moments. When discussing the details of their plans, Alejandro reminds them that the militia protecting the company assets will be armed. One of the activists suggests that they get their own guns so they can protect themselves. In a typical leftist fashion, Alejandro torpedoes the idea and says that their cellphones will save them and if any one of them is greased, then they’ll just have to kill all of them. Ain’t collectivism grand, proles?
The activists pull off their little stunt, but Justine barely escapes with her life after she’s threatened at gunpoint by one of the militia. Justine is appalled to learn that Alejandro was willing to allow her to die if it came down it. He confesses that he didn’t really give a shit about the cause or the tribe, and that they were just paid by a competing firm to give the company bad press. Hello, George Soros and MoveOn.org. The activists are basking in the glory of their social media fame when the plane’s engine sputters and begins plummeting into the jungle. The crash sequence is brilliantly executed and truly harrowing. The pilot is impaled in the skull, the cabin splits in half and dumps half of the passengers on to the jungle floor. Once on the ground, they think things can’t get worse, but soon discover that their troubles have only just begun. The remaining activists are tranquilized by blow darts and imprisoned by the indigenous tribe they set out to save in the first place.
This is where the film kicks into overdrive. Roth takes obvious pleasure in violating PC taboos and doesn’t pass up a single opportunity. The biggest of which was the casting of the indigenous tribe themselves. You won’t have to search too hard to find some irritating Puritan bitching about “racism” or some other comparably idiotic whinging. This casting choice is a masterstroke and lends the film a feeling of authenticity that makes the film truly terrifying. The tribe wastes no time picking out their first victim, and they choose the poor bastard who brought Justine into the fold. It’s some brutal shit. I realize there’s plenty of gruesome stuff out there these days, but this is a pretty rough scene.
And it doesn’t stop after the butchery is over. The tribe then prepares the human parts for a tribal feast! It’s disgusting, but utterly outrageous all at once.
Roth doesn’t limit himself to grand guignol; he pushes the boundaries of gender correctness, too. In another scene, the female leader of the tribe inserts a giant talon up the vagina of each of the female captives to test for virginity. He draws out the tension by allowing you to experience how terrified each of the women are. That’s right. Women expressing actual fear. It’s exactly the kind of scene that’s drawn the ire of feminists and culture cops for years, but the thing the Puritans fail to grasp is that seeing a woman fear for her life is, in fact, horrifying. And it’s especially transgressive when the contemporary orthodoxy mandates that women be portrayed as physically stronger, smarter, and more capable than men.
The remainder of the film is a race for survival and ends with an unexpected twist which hints at the possible beginning of a franchise.
The Green Inferno is a nasty little horror film that achieves exactly what it should by mixing a genuinely scary premise with black humor and attitude to spare. It’s not completely out of line to point out that there are echoes of Herzog here as well. The jungle itself is very much a character in the film and there’s little doubt that Roth and company were cribbing from Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo just as much as Cannibal Holocaust. Roth and company achieved their ambitions with this film. He deserves credit for his ambition and for being unafraid to piss off people who deserve every bit of ridicule he dishes.