It’s not everyday that a film — let alone a horror one — inspires a global discussion. At best, there are few films that really get the community excited and talking. Last year we saw this with films like The Babadook and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and earlier this year It Follows became a real hope for the genre. If you are reading this, there is no doubt that you have heard of today’s subject…
Eli Roth, love him or hate him, is one of the biggest names in horror. When it was announced, years ago, that his next project, The Green Inferno, was to be a cannibal film in the vein of the Italian classics, the scene was abuzz with speculation. His detractors were quick to spout of their usual “hack” retorts, but a great deal were still interested enough to see what he could pull off. Following its initial festival run, however, the film fell into distribution limbo, a lull that lasted two years. That lull has come to a close and, despite the protests, online petitions, and usual array of hate, Green Inferno was released last weekend to American audiences.
Rather than present a typical review or a lengthy think piece, both of which have been done to death, Diabolique felt that the subject deserved more of a discussion. It’s a complicated film, not only because of its potentially offensive subject matter but simply because Roth’s films have always been polarizing. Due to length, the conversation between our Editor-in-Chief, Max Weinstein, and Managing Editor, Joe Yanick, has been broken up into three installments. Here is part one:
[WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD]
JOE: I feel that it is best to start off by actually stating how I personally feel about Eli Roth. Based on what I will go on to say, I want to begin by stating that I actually really admire him as a filmmaker. His movies haven’t always clicked with me but his talent is undeniable and his love of horror has always been honest and sincere. I’ve always appreciated that about him, especially how he uses his own success to help those below him. Max, you have a much stronger affinity for his work. You’ve been an avid supporter and have hailed Hostel and Hostel 2 as feats for the genre. So, going in, what were you expecting from The Green Inferno?
MAX: The Hostel films, at their worst, are xenophobic, but at their best are contradictory, morally ambiguous looks at American foreign policy attitudes and violence in general. I agree that Roth’s work ethic, talent, and active presence in the horror world are all what endear him most. But to that, I would add that the Hostel films opened a necessary dialogue about the kind of rage that could be felt as we watched, after 9/11, events like the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuses happen from afar. Roth has always seemed to be a filmmaker who likes to have his cake and eat it too — that is, he leaves room for both social commentary and juvenalia in ways that aren’t always cohesive or consistent. But I either enjoyed that or chose to look past it in his first three films. So, going into The Green Inferno, I was expecting a flawed but fun film that would offer shades of gray about cannibalism and invasion of indigenous people’s land, while maintaining a tongue-in-cheek tone. I didn’t quite get that, though.
JOE: Yeah. Let’s just get right into that: historically, the cannibal sub-genre has always been one that (in my opinion) receives more praise than maybe it warrants. It’s not as easy as the black and white ‘racist vs. not racist’ argument that is often hashed out. Yet, even when they are speaking to some cause (like Cannibal Holocaust), the message is so weak that it hardly justifies the effort it takes to utter it. So, really, cannibal films should be admired for their exploitation merits at the time of their release but not as message films. This is something you can’t do with Green Inferno. As you say, it wants it both ways. Roth is clearly working through some sort of meditation on Western exploitation of South American/Native lands, but he seems very confused at the same time. He’s angry but I am not sure what he is angry about. Even though it’s clear that Roth wants the film to be one way, the film we get is nothing like that.
MAX: Yeah, he’s definitely angry. The glaring problem for me is that in the Hostel films, he was angry with the attitude of “We Western kids are entitled to anything and everything no matter where we are,” and that shows in how his characters pay for that pigheadedness with their lives. In The Green Inferno, his characters, with the exception of one or two people, are actually conscious of exploitation, rather than contributing to it (i.e. going to a hostel to fuck prostitutes). So the anger feels misguided. I’m down with critiquing so-called ‘Social Justice Warriors’ — people who blindly post activist things on social media without following through with real action — insofar as the conversation stays focused on the actual activism (or lack thereof) that’s taking place. In The Green Inferno, though, basically the logic is anyone who gets upset about injustices has being eaten alive ‘coming to them.’ There isn’t much room for two sides of the argument, at least in a way that feels honest.
JOE: I’m not sure if you felt this way but, to me, it felt like this movie was written 10 years ago and then slightly changed to include nods to Anonymous and Twitter. These latter mentions are very misguided and underdeveloped, however, especially when you consider the implementation of Twitter during the Cairo revolts and the real work that Anonymous has done. Did any of it strike you as someone out of touch clinging desperately for footing?
MAX: [Laughs] Well, it’s admitted on Roth’s part. According to him, he wrote the first incarnation of the screenplay before the KONY 2012 campaign began to catch fire online, and once that happened, it apparently propelled much of the script that had yet to be finished. Now, even KONY 2012 feels somewhat in the past, and ‘SJW’ as a term feels more like it describes something else entirely. (Check out the latest South Park season premiere for a great commentary on ‘SJW’s). As far as him “clinging for footing,” this is actually one of the things I feel compelled to defend him on. Since time immemorial, exploitation has been about clinging to footing, finding ‘timeliness’ and ‘relevance’ to ascribe to rough, in-your-face films as a way to justify their controversial content to the public. (Something like the citation of how many rapes and murders happen on the streets per minute in Bill Lustig’s Vigilante trailer comes to mind, and there are many more examples). So I applaud and welcome Roth’s marketing ploy to insert The Green Inferno in an ongoing discussion. The problem for me, though, is that the movie doesn’t contribute much to the discussion it raises. Is Roth’s point that we shouldn’t even have activist discussions online in the first place? It kind of feels like that.
JOE: I think you can even pose that the film argues against activism in the first place. People are already backing up the film by stating that some of the activists are painted in a positive light. This is true. It has to be said that even the actions, at times, seem earnest. But, even more than the violent death of “activists,” the film may get off the most on undermining activist intentions. Roth likes showing them getting disemboweled but he seems to love showing them turn on each other and reveal their evil side. For instance, Roth doesn’t elevate anything by having Alejandro (Ariel Levy) be a completely repugnant character. Complicated characters are great for scripts but, in making Alejandro so horrific, Roth only creates a 1D depiction. It hurts the film, which otherwise could have benefited greatly by showing a little reserve. I would have welcomed a discussion of narcissism within activist circles, but I can only lament how much stronger his message would have been if Alejandro was willing to let others die because of how strongly he cared about pushing forward the cause and not himself. What we get is frankly dull and the easiest way out.
MAX: Alejandro is 1D, for sure, and that’s a letdown in a film that’s striving to convince people who are passionate and knowledgeable about activist causes that there are some real downsides to going through with an activist plan haphazardly. The most troubling thing is that although Alejandro’s followers all come across as pretty well-intentioned (if not naive) individuals, Roth still revels in their deaths with a level of contempt that really leaves no room for a reading of their activism as separate from, and better than, Alejandro’s. All roads lead back to them being pathetic losers who are following Alejandro and therefore deserve to get brutalized. The one strength I thought Alejandro had going for him was that, although he was a total dick, his conviction seemed well-informed, which made him fearless. But we quickly learn that that’s not the case. What was your reaction to the revelation that Alejandro is basically, after all, a fringe conspiracy theorist?
JOE: Maybe I am revealing too much about myself, but I didn’t think of him so much as a conspiracy theorist. Sure, the 9/11 comment is hard to stomach but, knowing (as we do now) that the US allowed Pearl Harbor to happen, it seemed to be less a “9/11 was an inside job” comment than a ‘Big Government will sacrifice who they need to get what they want’ sort of thing, which actually jives with me theoretically… *Hides tinfoil hat*
MAX: [Laughs] Actually, we agree on ‘Big Government sacrifices’ in theory. But Alejandro suggests that the Peruvian government caused their plane crash! You think he’s right to go that far?
JOE: No, I think he implies that the competing company who hired him to sabotage the deforestation were the ones that caused the plane crash, not the government.
MAX: Important point, you’re right. But again, he then references other ‘government sanctioned’ violence to reinforce his theory. I think what I’m getting at is, the film deliberately paints ‘the activist leader’ as someone who is fundamentally confused about his/her ideology and the causes he/she promotes.
JOE: But we actually do not get a strong sense that Roth disagrees with him on his more ‘wing-nut’ theories. In fact, the film kind of supports many of them. It seems like Roth — and this is where the film gets confused — actually respects him more for his brazen understanding of corruption.
MAX: Gotta disagree. I think the vessel for Roth’s perspective in that moment is Justine (Lorenza Izzo), who looks at Alejandro in horror, her jaw agape, as he suggests these things. That moment is about ‘Look at the shitstorm this delusional nut has led me into. This was a total mistake.’
JOE: Okay, I agree. I do not think that Alejandro is sympathetic. But how do you rectify the fact that he’s actually right every single time? He is the film’s smartest character.
MAX: Or the dumbest. He got most of his followers killed based on naive notions about the impact they would make. And the only one other than him who lived to tell the tale is Justine, who acts as our voice of reason and ‘goodness’ throughout.
JOE: He doesn’t care about that, his job was done at that point, right? He made them famous.
MAX: Right, he doesn’t care about their lives. Which, it seems in Roth’s eyes, makes him the biggest dumbass. The film really milks the tension between the things that Alejandro says that are ‘actually right’ and the irony that these poor kids are now meeting their impending doom because of how ‘right’ he is. I guess it’s semantics, but for me being ‘right’ doesn’t make him the smartest.
JOE: That’s true, even if I think Roth is so confused on Alejandro as a whole.
MAX: So confused.
(This conversation will continues here: https://diaboliquemagazine.com/the-green-inferno-2/)