Sunday, August 21, 2022

Messaging the Monstrous: The Green Inferno

You can tell from imdb the cast of Eli Roth’s Cannibal Holocaust-inspired film appeared in many subsequent projects, some even soon after its release. Nobody died during the shoot and Roth never implied that they did, nor did he depict any animal killings on-screen, real or simulated. Yet, viewers cannot miss the spirit of old school Italian cannibal exploitation movies in Roth’s The Green Inferno, which screens at MoMA, as part of its Messaging the Monstrous: Eco Horror film series, in recognition of its status as a true work of modern cinematic art.

Initially, Justine admires the commitment and idealism of Alejandro’s campus “social justice” organization, but her roommate Kaycee recognizes his charisma as the persuasive snake oil of a cult leader. Nevertheless, Justine agrees to participate in their upcoming “action,” in which they will live-stream themselves blocking bulldozers poised to clear-cut a portion of the Peruvian Amazonian rainforest. However, she is bitterly disillusioned when Alejandro puts her life at risk, to capitalize on her father’s position as a UN attorney. Things get worse on the return trip, when their plane crashes in the middle of hostile indigenous territory.

Justine survives with a handful of activists, awkwardly including Alejandro. His behavior is a bit troubling, especially when he discourages and even actively hinders escape attempts. It turns out he is a truly hypocritical scumbag—and one of the most detestable, but distinctly notable movie villains of the late-twenty-teens.

As in Deodato’s cult-favorite, a group of privileged Americans (who would traditionally be profiled as woke hipsters) go to the Amazon and make everything worse. There might be an environmental message to
Green Inferno (don’t raze the rainforest, because it will have dangerous consequences), but it is the depiction of the professional activist-class is what really defines the film, because it cuts so close to the bone. Roth’s screenplay, written with Guillermo Amoedo made a lot of critics uncomfortable, because there was a lot of truth to it.

Plus, it addresses the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, in ways that highlight the horror of the practice and undercut cultural relativism. Frankly, anyone requiring “trigger warnings” should skip this film. It was intended for grown-ups.

Ariel Levy is spectacularly loathsome and frighteningly magnetic as the despicable Alejandro. He really is an unforgettable stand-out bad guy. Lorenza Izzo makes a credible “final girl” survivor, who turns out to be pretty compelling as she develops the necessary guts and grit to endure. Roth also brought along a lot of his co-stars from Nicolas Lopez’s
Aftershock, who sufficiently differentiate the personality types of the other activists.

Clearly, there is way too much irony in
Green Inferno for most film critics to process. There is also a heck of a lot of violence, so the sensitive should be forewarned. It is also Roth’s best film to date. It is a smart homage that finds new twists to stay faithful to the subversiveness of Deodato’s original. Highly recommended for bold audiences, The Green Inferno screens this coming Saturday (8/27) at MoMA.