What's the point of watching horror movies? An often argued reason is catharsis. Horror movies dredge up cultural anxieties and play them to their worst ends on screen, so when the lights come up, we can say, "it's only a movie," and dismiss those fears. Eli Roth has done this in artful, cheeky ways with "Cabin Fever" (flesh-eating viruses!) and "Hostel" and "Hostel Part Two" (commercialized torture!). In "The Green Inferno," he works out that oh-so-scary fear of ... hashtag activism? Coupled with a throwback, retro cannibalism storyline that is groan-worthy, "Inferno" is a flop that overestimates gore for actual scares.

You have to wonder if Roth completely forgot or just abandoned traditional horror filmmaking, where screams and suspense are meted out over the course of a film in order to keep the tension flowing. The first half is a dull, half-baked eco drama where Columbia University freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo) links up with a group of activists headed to the Amazon rainforest to livestream and shame developers who are threatening the land of an ancient tribe.

Though the protest appears to be a success, when the students' plane crashes in the jungle — with them outfitted in "BioGas" jumpsuits to infiltrate the worksite — it's time for the horror. The indigenous tribe, mistaking them for developers, hauls them to their village for a barbecue.

What follows isn't so much scary as it is unwatchable. You're either going to be able to watch bodies torn limb from limb, roasted and happily feasted on or you're not. That's for you to decide. Regardless, the proceedings are a grim drudgery without an ounce of suspense.

The one thing Roth has preserved from horror tropes is the Final Girl, a role that Justine fits to a T. There's even a gruesome ritual to check the status of her virginity, which is Final Girl Rule Number One. But this doesn't play on that horror trope; it just ties back to the continual task of situating the tribe as different, foreign and other. If one thing is clear, it's that Roth's real anxieties lie in foreigners and their mysterious customs.

It's surprising that Roth has turned in something so uninspired and dour. It feels like he got confused with who the villain is and where the scares should go. Essentially, the student activists are to blame for their own predicament, including charismatic but callous leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy), and while the Amazonian tribe brings the pain, the film doesn't want to indict them.

It's clear Roth was trying to say something about the brave new world of social media enabled social justice, and public shame as a tool for change, but the message is garbled. That it comes wrapped in a horror package that just isn't scary or suspenseful is the real shame.



1 star out of 4

Cast: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy

Directed by Eli Roth

Rated R for aberrant violence and torture, grisly disturbing images, brief graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes

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