By Casey Campbell
If you follow my Twitter (@TheFilmTent) then you may have noticed that I recently LiveTweeted during a movie. The movie being Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno from 2013. My Twitter tirade spanned the runtime of the movie and contained some resentful comments about the film.
To put it lightly, I didn’t like it. But my distaste of this general atrocity was pretty pronounced. I can typically take a movie that’s bad and stow it away in the recesses of my mind. The Green Inferno did so many things poorly that I simply can’t stop thinking about it. It also makes me wonder what made me watch it in the first place.
Back before The Green Inferno was released, their production studio put out some trailers. One contained an extended look at a scene depicting pretty heinous things. A character was strapped down by the indigenous cannibal tribe and was brutally dismembered. This was a promotional trailer. Suffice to say, I was conflicted. The trailer gave me a visceral response: it was disgusting, and hard to watch. But at the same time, if a promotional trailer for this Cannibal Holocaust copycat was provoking such strong emotions, surely the film would be an interesting experience.
Turns out, it wasn’t. As a one off scene, that death was provocative. I was precariously interested in the film, fully aware of what Eli Roth is capable of (or rather, incapable of) as a filmmaker. As a whole, the movie falls apart in every single aspect.
I can’t even pinpoint one single aspect that was either decent or okay. Everything, across the board, was dismal.
A group of college students head out to the wilds of Peru to fight encroaching industry. They succeed. And then their plane crashes as they head back to mainland Peru, and the survivors get taken to a cannibal tribe’s village. From the basic plot, one would assume its a horror movie. But, screenwriters Eli Roth and Guillermo Ameodo decide to eschew tonal regularity completely, and prefer to go for a jumbled bag of who-gives-a-fuck. There’s unfunny comedy here, unfrightening horror there, and a general lack of suspense stemming from a lack of characters to care about. But when your characters are played by pieces of wood, it’s hard to really grab onto anyone in any way.
So, we have a script with the tonal inconsistency of a broken guitar string, and a cast of “characters” played by “actors”. Not a strong start. But hey, it’s set in the rainforest, right? Surely any DoP could shoot that in an interesting way! Unfortunately, not. I’ve actually never seen such an ugly film, let alone a film which makes a standalone gorgeous environment look so muddy and bland. It also hurts that the average shot length was about one second, in dramatic scenes, and at least a quarter of a second on any frantic action scene. If you hate gore, you may be able to watch this, because the camera never stays still on anything for long. Actually, try not to watch this at all.
Horror is a genre that I respect for many reasons, and is one that I believe is important for cinema. It can give the audience a visceral response to something that they are seeing (if you’re a GOOD director), or hearing (if you’re a BAD director) very loudly and suddenly. It can also take ideas about the human psyche and flesh them out into thought provoking works of art. In my Train to Busan review, I reference the brilliant It Follows as: masterfully [playing] with the stigmas that come with sex and early adulthood. As a genre, horror is not inherently bad.
In the hands of a hack director, it can be awful. Eli Roth does nothing remotely interesting with this “horror” movie. I even question whether my use of the word “horror” in that sentence is correct or accurate. To watch someone get their eyes gouged out, their tongue cut out, and their limbs hacked off would be a horrifying experience. In a film, especially one that doesn’t feed the audience any information about the characters, that viewing experience is more gratuitous and gross than it is horrifying.
If, say, the film contained characters that we could care about, watching them get ripped apart would actually be scary. The human element must be intact for the audience to care. It wasn’t and I didn’t.
The Green Inferno is the work of a bad writer/director whose poor script, in the hands of poor actors, was shot by a lazy cinematographer and was then cut together hastily. It is not good. It is bad. Awful even. I hope I’ve made that clear. Miss this one, lest you go on a tirade of over 800 words in the name of film criticism.