There's no denying that The Green Inferno director Eli Roth is a horror geek among horror geeks. He'd be the first to explain the different versions of Dawn of the Dead. He was the kid who bought Bloodsucking Freaks and Faces of Death when the other kids bought Halloween and Friday the 13th. And he's the one who knows the difference between Mountain of the Cannibal God (Sergio Martino, 1978), Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato, 1980), and Cannibal Ferox (Umberto Lenzi, 1981).
So it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows their horror cinema that the director of Hostel has decided to pay homage to a very specific sub-genre: the "clueless idiots wander into the deep jungle" cannibal misadventure. Folks who remember those sleazy non-classics with some degree of affection will certainly appreciate what Mr. Roth has cooked up in the foreboding jungles of Peru – although it's difficult to say if the shocking, disturbing, and plain old nasty will manage to cross over to the casual horror fans.
Like virtually all of the movies that inspired The Green Inferno, this one takes a little while to get cooking. It's the story of a dozen busybody American activists who trek all the way down to Peru to stage a protest and prevent a construction company from destroying an indigent tribe. Things go sour from early on, and it's not long before a shocking tragedy leaves our survivors trapped in a cage and left at the mercy of a ravenous cannibal tribe. Between the slightly arid set-up and the brutally matter-of-fact style of horror, The Green Inferno might not go over too well with people who walk in expecting "Hostel in a Jungle," but if you're in the mood for horror that still strikes a primordial chord there's a good deal to enjoy here.
At its best moments, such as most of Act II and a good deal of the finale, The Green Inferno taps into some dark and insidious fears: being lost in a strange place; being held captive by an alien group of people, and (of course) being chopped up and devoured by human beings who see you as an evil presence. As Roth's group of survivors dwindles in numbers from a dozen to six to three, The Green Inferno delves into some truly bleak and thought-provokingly disturbing horror. Unfortunately the director frequently cuts away to broad and puerile bodily-function "humor," all of which serve to deflate the tone, mood, and atmosphere of a generally very effective horror story.
Aside from Roth's few misguided attempts at humor and some CGI work that's almost laughable in and of itself, The Green Inferno boasts several intriguing aspects: the director's omnipresent themes of American provincialism and naivete regarding the dangers of unwelcoming lands; a cinematographic style that's alternately beautiful in some shots and oppressively dreary in others; an ominous musical score that helps the tension percolate even during scenes of people arguing inside a cage; and a disarmingly effective subplot involving our heroine and a cannibal kid that pays off in predictable but satisfying fashion.
Despite its few missteps, The Green Inferno works as both a gut-punch horror film and a distressingly downbeat adventure story, one that features both simple horrific pleasures and a small dash of socio-political food-for-thought regarding who the real "savages" are when all is said and done. The Green Inferno is made for a specific type of genre fan, but it seems likely that they'll appreciate Eli Roth's gruesome love letter to a very small and distinct subset of hardcore nasty horror films.
Also stick through the end credits for a small filmography on the Italian cannibal canon. The Green Inferno is pretty rough stuff, but it's a sitcom compared to the stuff Martino, Deodato, and Lenzi threw together 40 years ago. And if you dig this one, check out a horror flick from a few years back called Welcome to the Jungle, from Jonathan Hensleigh.