Never have I been more excited to hand some teenaged clerk $10.50 to see a movie. And I’m not quite sure why. Maybe its because I’m the guy who typically buys candy bars and packs of gum in the checkout line when I see a “On Sale” sign. I’m the guy who watches commercials and gets really excited when they’re flashy and funny. Basically, I’m an easy sale. It really doesn’t take much, sad to say, to get my gear going. My wife has often told me I’m a marketing teams wet dream (in more or less words, wink wink). Now, this in no way is a critique on the quality of film, per say. I’m just wondering, after-the-fact, how I got so enthusiastic for movie? Well, considering the above disposition to cheap gimmicks, there should be no wonder at all, as The Green Inferno pulled no stops on ad space. And lets be real here, its a film designed after the great cannibalistic films before its time. This was marketed as Cannibal Holocaust 2.0, wasn’t it? Indeed. But did Eli Roth pull off what Ruggero Deodato did back in 1979?
Here is your quick fire synopsis:
New York college student Justine, who’s daddy so happens to be a big shot UN lawyer, meets a student activist named Alejandro, who you’ll find has his head way up his ass, when he goes on a hunger strike on behalf of underpaid janitors. After she becomes traumatized by a college lecture on female genital mutilation, Justine pleads to join with the student activist group undertaking a new project: to stop the destruction of an indigenous Peruvian tribe’s ancestral home, Occupy Wall Street Style. The group of young, dumb, and full of bad ideas college brats travels with privileged upper class American exceptionalistic fanfare, marveling at the local scenery while also mocking a few of the customs carried on down in South America. Justine soon learns to regret her decision in joining this band of “one face” wannabes when their plane crashes in the Peruvian jungle and she and the rest of their group are taken captive by a tribe of hungry cannibals.
So that’s a basic set up. From there, the movie guides you through some very realistic and hilarious insights into this slacktivist quandary. And while the acting was choppy at times, especially in the beginning between Justine and her roommate, it is a forgivable let down that quickly fades away into the obscurity of gruesome violence. I felt the film was a honest homage to Cannibal Holocaust while also retaining its own voice. In Cannibal Holocaust, we are forced to question just who are the savages, the tribe or the film crew (who are exceedingly cruel to the locals)? With The Green Inferno, we are forced to ask what good the slacktivist movement does. While Cannibal Holocaust had a broader subversive quality, The Green Inferno brings us into a more localized phenomenon. For those of us watching the news and seeing kids in white V is for Vendetta masks and wondering what good does all that do? Garner attention? Sure. Anything else? Unlikely. And it seemed even more repugnant when some groups attempt to parallel their own movement to the likes of say, Arab Spring, or even worse, The Civil Rights Movement, where in the 1960s college students laid claim to fame for nonviolent disobedience while riding buses and sitting at lunch counters, working in the rural south to get black citizens to register to vote. To me, that is real activism, working to help. Not just chaining yourself to some building or bulldozer and then having a good laugh about it later that night at Starbucks. As the movie progresses, we see just what it was Alejandro was after, fame. Nothing more what a bunch of re-tweets and re-posts on social media platforms to, as he said, bring in more student activists. He had no intention of stopping anything, and in fact, knew he could do jack shit. All of the tag-a-long slacktivists seem okay with this, or worse, expected nothing less. Justine is furious. She thought she was going to cause real political change. Her naivety in the story showcases, I think, Roth’s impressions on similar groups in America. Dumb egomaniac kids with the best intentions.
Things begin to heat up, no pun intended, when their plane crashes in the jungle, and very soon after, the local tribe captures the lot and imprisons them in a pig pen. Here, and among other scenes (including a very gross “stomach problem” scene and a “stoner” scene in which the cannibal tribe gets the munchies…get it?), Roth injects a certain amount of humor amid the gore. Giving the film a very satirical vibe. Perhaps adding to the subversive nature of the film. Understanding Roth’s social commentary aim and sitting down and looking at the film itself, there are a few fantastically horror moments, and there are a few letdowns as well.
The movie had a fantastic vibe building up to the eventual encounter with the indigenous savages. Plenty of foreshadowing to make your eyes roll. When the first student is served on the chopping block, it felt like a shotgun. Roth cleverly used Jonah, the not so token but certainly guileless black guy, as his “first” item on the menu. And it is a fantastically cringe worthy scene, very brutal and terrifying to watch. With something has intense as Jonah’s death, we have to wonder just what lays in wait for the remainder of the film. Understandably, the gore cannot keep the same momentum or the audience could actually grow desensitized to the violence. You want to keep people guessing and on the edge of their seats. So you pull some punches, and that’s okay, because again, you cant just keep hitting people with a hammer and expect them to react the same way as the first scene. But when it comes to the finale, you’d think, okay here it comes, the last hurrah. Its going to be really gross and awesome….!
This particular scene would have really sold the movie for horror fanatics and given the film a bit of tragic-delirious injection of irony. If they’d just gone ahead with the genital mutilation, it would have sent the movie easily as one of the best horror films because it would have captured all of the intentions of the best horror stories: taboo, gore, and subversive. However, Eli did not go through with it. Maybe he knew the ratings board would have shit a brick if he kept it in the film. Either way, the pulled punch did not destroy the overall dread-esk abeyance of The Green Inferno. It was still really fun and had plenty of goretastic moments. If you’ve been waiting for nerds like me to give you the approval, you have it, in spades. Its a fun, perhaps over-hyped, film for maybe not the whole family.
My rating: 4.5/5
Most folks remember Wes Craven for his contribution to the slasher genre during the 80’s (Nightmare on Elm Street) and his more subversive take during the 90’s (Scream). But the father of Freddy did much more for horror than glove claws. During the 70’s, following the Vietnam War and its mass exposure to hyper-violence, savage cinema, through avenues in grindhouse productions, became in its own right, a way in dealing with this era of heightened confusion, uncertainty, and death. Consider Blood Feast (1963), Cannibal Holocaust (1979), and Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) as just a few examples of the best savage cinema had to offer. Their stories are typically simple depictions of everyday life pitted against terrible random violence. Friends on a road trip, adventures in documentary, families pulling up and moving cross-country juxtaposed with psychopathic food caterers, vicious desert dwellers, and hungry homesteaders.
During the era of savage cinema, Wes Craven gave us horror nerds the two best films in his career, Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). With Last House, creepy Craven handed audiences, as John Carpenter said during an interview with Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue, “a strong cup of coffee,” brewed with a heightened since toward violence against the innocent and, basically, probing what people are willing to do in revenge and showing us, even though we’d rather not know, that even when we act just as violently, there is no satisfaction, there is no justice in those kinds of actions.
Back out in the Hills, Craven introduces us to a world a little less violent, but much more compelling. The Hills Have Eyes is an atmospheric horror flick depicting the “average” American family traveling cross-country in their mobile home. Ignoring the warnings of the old gas station owner, the family becomes stranded off the main road. Then, out of desperation, they are forced to split up, leaving themselves vulnerable to vicious attacks. The hill people begin their assault by taking away the very things they feel make this family serene and perfect, leaving the Carter’s to defend for themselves, becoming, eventually, just as violent as the hill people.
With the Hills, Craven was able to weave familiar mythologies (travelers being attacked by outside forces) into the modern nightmare. The Hills Have Eyes is an amazing picture worth seeing over and over. After viewing the movie myself, last night in celebration of the films 36th year anniversary, I went to bed pondering how far people are really willing to go in defending, not only what is their’s, but also, their loved ones. If a horror movie can still make you question society, 36 years after the fact, it is easily one of the scariest and meaningful horror films of all time. For long time horror fans, the “scary” moments are not normally what makes us jump in our seats, the cheap thrills. “Scary” for a horror fan are the moments we’re left thinking, “who made the movie?” Moments that really make us question reality. Maybe not right away, but later, on the drive home or when we go to sleep. Those are the best moments for horror. And for Wes Craven and The Hills Have Eyes, if you watch it, you might likewise experience those very uncertainties of society.
I give The Hills Have Eyes 4 out of 5! A timeless classic and must watch for any connoisseur of macabre.