Sunday, February 5, 2017


Welcome to another installment of the TRASH BIN, where we watch the worst movies Hollywood has to offer, according to the critics, and give you our thoughts, good or bad. This week's pick is a controversial 2015 offering from gore maestro Eli Roth, THE GREEN INFERNO.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. One of the things I've learned from my years as a movie fan is how much directors love to distract their audiences. This can have its uses, and can even be used as a teaching tool for the audience's benefit. 2014's Gone Girl, for example, distracted us with a tale of a woman who appeared to be in an abusive relationship to make a point about how women are perceived today. Usually, though, I think filmmakers distract their audiences simply to sort them into groups, dividing the superficial, casual watchers from those willing to pay attention and try to look past their first impression. I've encountered many examples of this over the last few years, and I know of one director who's built his career on it.

Eli Roth, in my experience, isn't given to this kind of behavior. His movies typically have simple, obvious morals, if at all, that don't tax the viewer in any significant way. Which is why The Green Inferno stands out to me. So far it's my favorite of his works because, on the surface, it looks like just another opportunity to watch young and beautiful people get offed in creative ways, but there's a surprising amount of substance underneath.

A horror movie born from the basic concept of the South Park episode "Rainforest Schmainforest," The Green Inferno tells the story of Justine (Lorena Izzo), a college freshman and the daughter of a UN lawyer. Justine isn't the activist type – the film opens with her openly mocking the activist mindset with her roommate – until one day, when the topic of female genital mutilation comes up in one of her classes. Justine reacts so strongly that she attracts the attention of a member of an activist group who invites her to one of their meetings. There she meets the charismatic and persuasive Alejandro (Ariel Levy) and, more due to her attraction to him than any belief in the cause, she decides to join the group on a weekend trip to Peru to protest rainforest destruction there. Natural gas mining in the area threatens the survival of an ancient tribe rarely seen by modern man, Alejandro tells the group. The group's planned actions against the mining company will help ensure the tribe's survival.

The first forty minutes of The Green Inferno pass in a light drama, giving no indication of the events to come. The group goes to Peru, they do their protest, they get back on their plane and head home.

Then the plane crashes. Then the crash survivors meet that ancient tribe they were told about.

Compared to, say, 2005's Hostel, The Green Inferno is a bit lighter on Roth's signature gore. Only the first kill by the tribe, an act of ritualized butchery that eliminates all doubt as to the tribe's capacity for brutality, is what I would call an "Eli Roth Kill." The rest are more on a level we're used to, except for one of the later deaths which serves as the climax of a darkly funny moment when one of the group's escape plans fails to pay off. Most of the horror of the film's final forty minutes is psychological.

I don't pretend that there's any deeper meaning to those final forty minutes. By that point the film's already set up its message and this is just explanatory payoff. The substance behind The Green Inferno is a commentary on the activist mindset. It's not a slam on all activism; at no point does Roth suggest one has no right to one's beliefs. The warning here is against activism for its own sake, loudly protesting a cause without understanding the details. The activist group's slogan, "Don't Think, Act," is one of the more obvious clues in this regard. It looks great on a flyer, but has an obvious double meaning upon reflection. The risks involved in the protest, which include getting killed by the militia defending the miners, don't occur to most of the group until they're already in country. Yes, the tribe which the film's young activists are claiming to defend is ancient and largely untouched by the modern world, but they're also cannibals, and when the two groups meet, they do what cannibals do. Even the film's ending has something to say about the blinders too often included in the activist mentality. Make no mistake: what you see in those last few minutes isn't "forgiveness," it's the willful omission of facts that don't fit the pre-conceived narrative. The Green Inferno takes a dim view of Making a DifferenceTM just to be "doing something".

It could be argued that, as is common with cautionary tales, The Green Inferno goes too far to make it's point. That's possible. But I still appreciate it for having more to say than simply play on my fears of communal housing (Hostel) or the risk of one-night-stands (Knock, Knock). Gory though it is, The Green Inferno is smarter than the average horror movie.

Rotten Tomatoes: 33%
Metacritic: 38
Robert's Score: 7/10

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