Why waste time thinking and researching when fighting a social injustice? Well, one might find oneself beset by the misfortunes graphically enumerated by 2015's The Green Inferno, a work of effective horror and devious pleasure.
Unsurprisingly, this film by Eli Roth, the director of the Hostel movies, has been misinterpreted by its critics. Actually, misinterpreted is too kind as it's clear to me from reading reviews on Rotten Tomatoes that most of its detractors did not see the film or if they did they certainly didn't stay for the end. I was surprised, because of the way this film's talked about, to find this movie is nowhere near as gory as Hostel and certainly not as shocking as Cannibal Holocaust, the mid-80s exploitation film among several to which Roth pays tribute with his film.
Justine (Lorenza Izzo) is the pretty daughter of an attorney for the United Nations. New to college, she becomes used to seeing protesters organising hunger strikes for janitor healthcare and other issues. When she meets the charismatic leader of one group, Alejandro (Ariel Levy), she ends up joining them on a trip to Peru and becoming part of a human wall to block bulldozers in the process of deforesting an area where an uncontacted tribe, the fictional Yawa, dwell. They seem to succeed but as they head home their plane catches fire, crashes, and they're captured by the very tribe they'd been protecting, a tribe that turns out to practice cannibalism.
While the tribe is fictional, it's not outside the realm of possibility for cannibalism to be practised in an isolated tribe in South America. Cannibalism, while relatively rare, is known to have been practised throughout South America and Mesoamerica. More prevalent was human sacrifice and ritual mutilation. The civilisations inhabiting the area, the Chimu and the Inca, were known to carry out human sacrifice. The ironic situation shown in the film, Justine taking up the cause of ridding the world of female genital mutilation only to get caught up in saving a group who carries out the very practice, is certainly plausible. However, critics who insist the film is a dangerous work of anti-indigenous people propaganda miss the film's fundamental statement. This statement became clear to me early on when we see Justine retrieve her necklace from where she keeps it underneath a copy of Moby Dick.
Like Captain Ahab's personal vendetta against the whale having little or nothing to do with the reality of the whale itself, Justine and her fellow activists create a world for themselves that has much more to do with proving themselves to their parents or peers than the real issues at the centre of their endeavours.
The film may be at its best in the first act. It builds tension beautifully as we see Justine go from the safe environment at college slowly into a world more alien to her. We see her and the other activists in an unfamiliar Peruvian city and then on the river in some beautiful location footage with which Roth said he wished to emulate Werner Herzog.
It becomes more and more clear that there are a million tiny details that the students hadn't anticipated about their task and each other--how they'll move their belongings, how they'll relieve themselves once they're on the river, how the politics at work are actually manifesting in the deforestation. Each piece of information seems to raise the tightrope higher.
But their imprisonment by the cannibals is pretty good as well though I found the film's minimal use of nudity a little jarring. One needn't look at many photos of actual tribes in South America before getting used to the fact that everyone walks around wearing little more than thin belts. So the rudimentary speedos and halter tops were a glaring anachronism though I can understand the pressures Roth might have been under to keep the film at an R rating.
It's a little funny seeing critics holding up Cannibal Holocaust vaguely as a high water mark and discussing whether or not Roth rises to the occasion. In The Green Inferno you will not see, as you will in Cannibal Holocaust, small animals actually being killed or torn apart, and no sexual assault aside from a priestess inspecting the female captives to determine virginity. Even compared to Roth's previous films The Green Inferno is pretty mild. Maybe he figured he'd have a hard enough time getting people to see it with his subject matter.
I won't spoil it but in case you're still wondering the film at the end clearly, very emphatically, comes out as being against deforestation. I thought of a line from Aliens: "You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage."