What is the Message of Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno?

Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno is finally seeing release this fall after spending a long time in a between-studios financial limbo. When it was initially being marketed back in 2013, the angle was that Roth had burrowed deeper into the Amazonian jungle than any film crew before his (including that of Cannibal Holocaust, the film most famous for landing its director in hot water with accusations that he’d actually made a snuff film), and had even gone so far as to screen Cannibal Holocaust for the tribal natives just so they could understand what a movie even is.

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Roth, no stranger to the history of exploitation cinema, wanted to take a beloved sub-genre of horror, the cannibal film, and push it to its limits. In doing so, he ended up making a film that, for all intents and purposes, was a critical success. Despite never being released widely, when Inferno ran the festival circuit, it garnered pretty positive reviews (especially considering that gorehound horror is not what tickles the fancy of many critics). These reviews championed it as exactly what is had purported to be: horrific madness at the hands of a filmmaker with a huge reverence for his genre.

But something has changed in the interim. The marketing angle is now based around the idea the The Green Inferno is a commentary on what we call “slacktivism,” a particularly troubling social concept in which people loudly soapbox for causes of which they know too little. The whole idea of “get ready for the most extreme horror movie ever” has given way to marketing like this:

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Roth has not been quiet about this seemingly new aspect of his movie. He was quite outspoken about it at his year’s San Diego Comic Con. His words:

I wanted to write a movie that was about modern activism. I see that a lot of people want to care and want to help, but in general I feel like people don’t really want to inconvenience their own lives. And I saw a lot of people just reacting to things on social media. These social justice warriors. ‘This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong.’ And they’re just tweeting and retweeting. They’re not actually doing anything. Or you see people get involved in a cause that they don’t really know a lot about and they go crazy about it. I wanted to make a movie about kids like that. I think there’s a lot great things, obviously, about activism people commit their lives to it. But I want to make a story about kids who don’t really know what they’re getting into. Get in way over their heads, it actually works. And then the irony is on their way home their plane crashes and the very people they saved think that they’re invaders, and just dart them and eat them. And make them the food supply of the village.

It sounds like his heart is in the right place, and I’m unwilling to give it a full judgment until I see the movie for myself, but naturally there have been a lot of response. Ironically enough, most of the push-back against the film has taken the form of exactly the type of slacktivism to which Roth refers, and more than a few articles I read preparing this piece referred to Roth as a “douche bro” because it’s never okay to label or generalize anyone until it is.

The one criticism I can get behind, and the driving idea behind this piece is why the sudden change? Why, when initially slated for release, was the marketing not pushing the anti-social justice warrior angle? Is this just something that was tacked on by the studio for the sake of marketability? Well, yes and no. According to Roth, he was inspired a bit by the famous Kony video which was circulating at the time:

Yeah. I actually wrote it, and when I finished the draft Kony 2012 happened. I was like this is it. Everyone is going, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ They’re drinking their mugs going ‘Don’t you care about child soldiers and kids being raped how can you not tweet this video?’  Everyone got so self righteous and publicly shaming. It was something that they hadn’t heard of 24 hours ago. I think it’s a double edged sword. I think there are ways to get involved and ways to be helpful. But the SJW culture has gotten so out of control. That you feel that everyone, are they doing it because they believe in it? Or do they just want to look like good people? Are people retweeting things because they think it’s important or because they want everyone to think that they’re a caring person? And I’m not making a judgment on these people either way. I’m just making a comment on it.

So it would appear that it was indeed part of the plan, at least in executing the film’s production. At the same time, we can assume that the new marketing campaign is just a sign of the times. Had we been using the terms “SJW” and “Hashtag Activism” back in 2013, it’s likely that we’d have seen posters like the one above.

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So does this make it right? Is Eli Roth indeed a douche bro? I contend that no, he is not a douche bro, nor does Zack Snyder enslave women to design Wonder Woman costumes which he’s going to shorten anyway just to make them feel like worthless objects. And therein lies some of my point, and I believe Roth’s point with The Green Inferno as well: It’s dangerous to make broad assumptions about something of which no do not know. So many people I’ve heard accuse Zack Snyder of rampant misogyny usually follow it up by admitting they’d only seen Man of Steel and read a Jezebel article about Sucker Punch. Much in the same way so many people who accuse Eli Roth of being a torture porn-slinging douche bro have also told me they haven’t seen any of his movies “because Saw was enough torture porn for them to handle.”

This is the type of dismissiveness that Roth is presumably commenting on with The Green Inferno. It’s also the same dismissiveness that the angriest of SJWs claim to be fighting against. One charity has even started a petition to get the film banned, claiming that his depiction of indigent peoples is insensitive and socially damaging.

Wait a minute! People want to ban The Green Inferno? Kinda reminds me of … what’s that film called? Oh yeah, Cannibal Holocaust.

There’s no way to know what the film’s intentions are until we actually see it, and even then it’s just audience interpretation vs the claims of one man, which then gets us into the age old argument of “who owns the meaning of a piece of art?” which I’m not smart enough to get into. Nonetheless, it’s important that before we go judging a film or going so far as to outright ban it from release, we should see it first. And if it takes watching a few under-informed activists getting eviscerated on screen to make people think, so be it. 


Author: Dan Scully

Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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