Female genital mutilation may be the final frontier in gore movies, and Eli Roth has now crossed it. The Green Inferno, Roth's first feature in eight years, begins with students gagging over FGM photos in a university lecture hall and then moves on to demonstrations of the practice in the primitive world of the movie. The demonstrations aren't graphic, but they're queasily close. Director Roth, who co-wrote the script, probably wouldn't bother defending these scenes (this is the man who gave us the Hostel movies, after all), and they're so pointlessly appended to the story that they function as little more than additional daubs in the picture's blood-soaked incoherence. Feel free to be offended, though.
The story is gore-flick simple: college kids meet cannibals in the Amazon jungle. The movie echoes genre classics like the 1980 Cannibal Holocaust (in which Amazonian atrocities also featured) and the 1964 2000 Maniacs (in which barbecued human was likewise on the menu).
The story begins, rather slowly, at Columbia University, in New York. Idealistic freshman Justine (Chilean actress Lorenza Izzo, Roth's wife) falls in with a group of self-righteous student protestors led by the charismatic Alejandro (Ariel Levy). He recruits her to join the group on a trip to Peru, where they will protest the despoliation of the jungle by American corporate interests (and, not incidentally, record their daring exploit for Internet streaming via cell phones). Justine has already noted that the cause most important to her is FGM, but she quickly sets that aside to sign up with Alejandro. Because he's cute, apparently.
The group flies to Peru and stages its protest at the corporate tree-clearing site. Then, on the way back, their little plane crashes in the jungle (a nicely managed action sequence) and the students are captured by an indigenous tribe adept at body-painting and blowgunnery. The natives paddle them upriver to a grim village festooned with piked heads and freshly skinned skeletons, and ruled by a frightful, one-eyed female shaman (Antonieta Pari). We're now on Roth's home turf.
Tossed into a wooden cage, the young adventurers despair of escaping (they can't get cell-phone service!). But they keep trying—and failing, in the most alarming ways. Limbs are hacked, eyeballs gouged, and roasted torso flesh ("My God, I can smell my friend being cooked!") is filleted with an expertise usually accorded whitefish at a deli.
Then three of the young women have their pants pulled down and a sharp stone knife run between their thighs (in carefully angled close-up). Later Justine is splayed out for special attention in this regard. Roth doesn't pretend there's any serious reason for showing us this stuff; he's just saluting the old-fashioned exploitation strategy of providing empty shocks of a sort that viewers can't easily obtain anywhere else. Somewhere, Herschell Gordon Lewis, at least, is smiling.
As usual, Roth leavens his gross-outs with humor. When one caged student is offered pork scraps for sustenance, she says, "I'm vegan." And we chuckle a bit when the caged youths manage to get their captors high on pot (don't ask how), which gives them the munchies, of course. But some of Roth's gags—especially the ones involving masturbation and explosive diarrhea – sail in out of nowhere and land with a deafening clank. And the movie's concluding scene, set back in the States, makes not the tiniest bit of sense.
The movie was shot in Chile and Peru in 2012, and has been confined to the festival circuit for the last two years. Its captivity should have probably continued.