If you’re a fan of Eli Roth, chances are that you’ve been following the story regarding the release of his latest film THE GREEN INFERNO. Originally slated for a September 5th release by Open Road Films, financial issues caused them to pull the film, leaving many wondering whether or not the film would ever find a distribution home.
Sure enough, on June 1st, 2015, Roth announced on Facebook that BH Tilt, Blumhouse Productions’ label dedicated to creating tailored strategies for genre films, would be releasing THE GREEN INFERNO on September 25th, 2015. This distribution is the result of a collaboration of BH Tilt, Universal Pictures, and High Tip Releasing, which utilizes Focus Features’ distribution capabilities. The film will be released on roughly 1,000 screens and advertising will be comprised of a mostly digital campaign.
This might initially seem like great news for horror fans, however, much like other Roth films before it, the film has become the subject of some controversy. The story is about a group of student activists who travel from New York City to the Amazon to save a dying tribe. Unfortunately, their plane crashes in the jungle and the activists are taken hostage by the very natives they were trying to protect. Roth has stated that the film was inspired by Italian cannibal films from the late 1970s and early 80s, particularly a controversial film known as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST; THE GREEN INFERNO’s title is even a reference to the film-within-a-film from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. While many would initially see this merely as a throwback to the classic horror movies of yesteryear, other see the film as a harmful depiction of uncontacted native tribes in Peru; that the film reinforces negative and racist stereotypes and ultimately undermines the efforts of real activists, like those of Survival International. This isn’t the first time one of Roth’s films has attracted criticism regarding cultural representation. Roth’s 2005 film HOSTEL was the subject of a great deal of controversy not only for its violence, becoming the first film to be branded with the term “torture porn“, but also for its depiction of the country of Slovakia.
Now, as he did then, Roth has dismissed these accusations as “absurd”. In a statement to Business Insider, he has been quoted as saying:
“The fear that somehow a movie would give them ammunition to destroy a tribe all sounds like misdirected anger and frustration that the corporations are the ones controlling the fates of these uncontacted tribes.”
In his full statement, he made further comments that the film’s true intention is to criticize people jumping on the social activist bandwagon, known as “slacktivism”. This is a phenomenon in which people use social media to promote causes they actually know nothing about, in order to receive validation. Roth states the film is:
“A metaphor for how people are shamelessly consumed by their vanity and need for validation on social media. These kids in the movie care, but they care more about getting recognized for caring.”
According to Roth, criticisms of his film are misguided, as the tribe featured in the film found the portrayal to be “hilarious”, as they know the difference between “real life and movies even though we showed them camera for the first time.”
“Everyone knew it was pretend, and they also understood that tribes don’t get displaced by gas companies because someone made them look scary in a movie. If this film, or any film, truly had that kind of power I’d be able to make a movie and save the rainforest in 90 minutes.”
Roth makes an intriguing point, especially since the film provided a year’s worth of payment to the tribe and “put roofs on every hut in the village”. There is no denying that major corporations bent on making a profit are indeed the greatest threat to the rainforest itself and to the livelihood of these tribes. However, he is also undeniably undermining the power of film and its effect on our perceptions of other cultures. It’s true that violence and racism existed long before the film industry, and it is certainly naïve to state that simply state that films on their own ultimately cause people to become violent. However, films are a product of our culture and they can in turn impact our culture in return. After all, Roth himself was inspired to create this film based on films he saw growing up; clearly these films had an effect on him that ultimately nurtured his own particular sense of creativity. Furthermore, isn’t there a message embedded in this film that is causing such a stir? If films truly have no power over us, then why embed them with messages and metaphors at all?
While Roth’s intentions may have been altruistic, much like the activists in his film, having good intentions doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing good work; nor does it mean that you will be exempt from the consequences of your actions. Representation is a delicate issue when it comes to the films and stories Hollywood chooses to greenlight; pretending racism, sexism, and homophobia don’t exist in the media is outright denial of numerous facts pointing to the contrary. If representation weren’t important, then no one would take note of feminism in Mad Max, of films that defy stereotypes, or of films that empower minorities rather than tearing them down. No one can deny that Roth’s work with the village is ultimately positive and that the work corporations is far more physically destructive in the here and now than any film could be, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the finished product won’t have unintended negative repercussions. Personally, even as a big horror fan, I’ve never been fond of the “torture porn” sub-genre, and despite my love for the horror genre as a whole, I am highly critical of films that promote negative stereotypes and rely on the shock value of certain types of violence, even if they do so inadvertently. I hold horror to a high standard, and I don’t appreciate it when a film chooses to rely on shock value over building good atmosphere, story, and characters. Roth’s clever social commentary aside, I can’t say that I am looking forward to this film based on the trailers, since there doesn’t appear to be much outside of those two tropes. However, I will reserve full judgement until the film’s theatrical release. That being said, I probably won’t be there opening weekend, as I may just decide to watch COOTIES again instead, because at least that film looks like fun.
What do you think of the news of the new release date? Are you excited for the throwback to classic cannibal horror films, or do you feel like Roth should heed his own advice about good intentions? Be sure to let us know @TheMovieChickk!
~ Megan Salinas
Follow me on Twitter at: @themenguin