A Trip To The Movies: Review – Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno” 9.27.15

If you had of asked me back in 2013 two years ago what my most anticipated horror film of the year was I would have said “The Green Inferno”. Unfortunately, it got shelved like many projects do back in the year it was supposed to have been released. This was incredibly disappointing for someone like myself who had been awaiting for writer/director Eli Roth’s return to horror. You see, Roth has been off the map for a while now, mostly involving himself in producing credits in projects like the underwhelming Netflix Original Series – “Hemlock Grove” (2013-2015), Ti West’s equally as disappointing “The Sacrament (2013), “The Last Exorcism Parts 1 and 2” (2010 and 2013 – which one could only imagine Roth made a killing off of) which were mostly dismissable efforts. In fact, the last really great project I’ve seen Roth involved in was his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” (2009). A film in which he landed a pretty considerable role in both starring opposite Brad Pitt as Sgt. Donny Donowitz (referred to as “The Bear” in that film as he always brandished a Louisville slugger baseball bat). What a lot of people don’t know either is that Roth also directed the black and white Nazi propaganda film – “Nation’s Pride” that was shown at the climax of that film. Going back was Roth’s most successful project – the first 2 entries to the “Hostel” trilogy (2005 and 2007). The first film I liked but didn’t love and the second which I liked only slightly less than it. But both of which I extremely admire because love it or hate it, between James Wan’s “Saw” (2004) and Roth’s “Hostel” which came out only a year later in 2005, gave birth to American “torture porn” in American horror. A genre that admittedly I admire but don’t gravitate to unless we’re talking about the films that have come out of the French New Extremity movement of the 2000’s. Films like “High Tension”, “Frontiers”, “Martyrs”, “Inside”, etc, to name a few. Had torture porn elements in them but reached for something much deeper in either making social commentaries on something, or spinning philosophical undertones in them. I consider these pictures to be smart, intellectual, psychological horror. Which is how I more or less felt about Roth’s two “Hostel” films. Going even further back was Roth’s writing/directing debut – “Cabin Fever (2002) – still my favorite of all of Roth’s films and the main reason why I keep chasing his projects from year to year, in hopes of him delivering something that’s even half as good as “Cabin Fever” was. Now come 2015, we see the release of his new (if you want to call it that) film that had been shelved for 2 years. His first writing/directing job since 2007’s “Hostel 2”.

Roth’s new film, which opened in wide release this past weekend and casts no recognizable actors (pretty incredibly considering it came out in wide release and was given very little if not any marketing at all). The plot revolves around a college freshman named Justine (Roth’s real life wife – Lorenza Izzo – an actress new to me but who will hopefully start popping up in more movies to come as her performance is great here) who becomes interested in her campus’ social activism group. As she gets more and more involved with the group she learns that they have been plotting a plan to take a trip down to South America to the Amazon rainforest to stop a company from logging thousands of acres and subsequently killing off ancient Native tribes. The activist group of about a dozen then flies to Peru, and starts their climb into the Amazon jungle, and begin the protest by dressing in logger uniforms and tying themselves to the trees that are set to be cut down. Their protest is somewhat successful as they get the attention of global news media but one of them almost winds up getting killed. After having come down to do what they do, and realizing that their activism could have had deadly consequences, they aboard a plane back to the United States. But their small charter plane gets into an accident and crashes (much like the scene from “Alive” (1993)- a film who one of its many themes is cannibalism) not long after their take off, and they wind up right back in the Amazon and into the territory of the ancient Native people, a group who a big part of their mission involved coming down to protect. It’s at this point, about halfway, and forward in the film where Roth starts bringing us the meat of the story, and things start to go absolutely bat shit crazy.

“The Green Inferno” was a highly rewarding experience for true horror fans like myself, and is the best work Roth has put out as a writer/director since the aforementioned “Cabin Fever” in 2002. Paying equal nods to “Deliverance” (1972), “Cannibal Halocaust” (1980), “Alive” (1993), and “Apocalypto” (2006). Roth here releases both his most terrifying and yet at the same time funniest film to date. It almost felt like it took the horror/torture porn elements of the “Hostel” series and added the comedic element that he combined so perfectly in “Cabin Fever”. When the activist group crashes and finds themselves in unfamiliar territory things go from bad to worse. And anyone that knows Roth’s penchant for going pretty out there with what he does with horror may understand how these subsequent scenes between the naive, upper class, mostly Caucasian college kids and tribes of ancient native peoples play out. I read a couple of blurbs of reviews prior to seeing this where many reviewers called this one of Roth’s more “restrained” films, and boy they couldn’t have been more wrong. The blood and gore factor is congruent with, and maybe goes farther than any of Roth’s earlier work. But what’s even more impressive is his ability to combine his trademark horror elements with comedy, expertly blending the two. It’s also a great social commentary on social activist groups, with Roth seemingly laughing at his own inside joke of what could potentially happen if some of these issues our American people fight for stateside were met firsthand if they were to actually travel to these indigenous countries themselves. Which makes it feel like more like an attack on social activism in general more than anything else. There’s a lot that people might pick out as being some pretty significant shortcomings of the film – it’s somewhat poorly acted, the editing is choppy, the film looks cheaply made, etc. Which is why the film has been met with mostly unfavorable reviews. But that’s not the point of an Eli Roth film. It’s to horrify and terrify you; while balancing it with underlying comedy. And as someone who has a slight hint of what to expect, it worked on several levels, especially in the middle section where the students are held in captivity. It’s a film that caters towards a certain type of audience like someone like myself who revels in full-blown horror. And for others who gravitate to this type of material I can assure you it doesn’t disappoint in what it sets out to do. In a year where the really only good horror film that stands out is “It Follows”. This is the next best piece of filmmaking that I’ve seen outside of it, and is a welcome return to the vision of writer/director Eli Roth’s earlier films. And solely because of that, I would recommend it but mainly only to die-hard horror enthusiasts, as almost anyone else might find this material to be a bit too sick and off-putting in its relishing of its pure unadulterated horror. Mr. Roth, I for one can say I’m thankful to have you back.

[B]

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A Trip To The Movies – Review: “It Follows” 4.4.15

After last year’s highly acclaimed but ultimately disappointing “The Babadook” I was really looking forward to the second of this year’s first two good looking horror releases after “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” (which as you can see by my review, I wound up really liking) and then this one, which I essentially knew nothing about other than that saw a trailer for it before the aforementioned film. A trailer that looked like it showed great promise. Also, coincidentally, a movie that got great reviews, which is rare in this day and age in films of the horror genre. Let’s face it, the genre in and of itself seems to be a bit of a dying one. As there are countless retread and remakes of older classics that seem to be churned out one after another. A sure-fire sign that Hollywood, hell even independent horror films, are a bit of a dying breed. One thing I realized back in October when I did my “Top 5 Favorite Horror Films of the Past 5 Years” section, is that I really could only come up with one single horror film I liked on average per year. To augment that statement, rarely does a horror film wind up landing on my end of/best of the year lists (one of the only films to have done so was in 2011 – when Ben Wheatley’s “Kill List” wound up being my favorite movie of that year). The only other horror film to have come out that landed a spot on my top 10 came out 6 years ago and that was Ti West’s “House of the Devil” (2009). It seems like it’s nearly next to impossible these days to come out with something that’s truly original and innovative enough to separate itself from the rest of the bunch coming out of the genre, and only once in a blue moon does a horror film come along that I truly feel breathes new life into the genre. So going into this one, while having heard great things via word-of-mouth, I have to admit I was slightly skeptical that it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. But even still, despite my skepticism, my level of anticipation for this one was rather high.

The movie begins with a young girl screaming, running from something, of which we can’t see. A few hours later, she winds up dead on a beach. We are then introduced to the film’s central character, a young teenager by the name of Jay, who’s romantically involved with another character, an older guy named Hugh. After a trip to the theater, things start to get slightly odd as Hugh claims to be seeing someone who Jay is convinced is not there. Jay winds up having sex with Hugh, but you see, this is much more than just sex, as without trying to give away any spoilers, Hugh winds up passing something along to Jay, something in which she is now afflicted with. It is through this pivotal sexual encounter that the story begins to unravel, as Jay and her neighborhood friends try to stop the evil curse that Jay has unfortunately found herself with. I’m going to stop there, because the less I tell you about this film (if I haven’t told you too much already) the better (similarly to how I felt about Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” (2012) ). Like that film it’s one of those rare films that come along every so once in awhile that really needs to be seen before it should be explained.

As mentioned the less I talk about the film’s content itself the better. What I will say is the film met my expectations and then some as it truly was an exercise in something that felt totally unique and original. And succeeds mostly in its execution on a lot of levels. It’s genuinely unnerving and tense throughout. While also being cerebral in that if you’re not paying close enough attention you might not have a clue as to what’s going on. It’s very much a “thinking person’s” horror film. You actually have to do quite a bit of work to formulate what it’s about (but it’s all there if you’re paying close enough attention). It does a great job penetrating the audiences psyche, and creates a certain tone and atmosphere that had both me and should have any other movie goer wide-eyed and transfixed by the images that are being shown on-screen. And while although I wouldn’t necessarily call it “violent” (not a deal breaker for me with horror as I like my horror to be more psychological) per say, it certainly is equal parts disturbing, shocking, very creepy, and startling. In fact, I was so immersed in it that my “holy fuck” meter was at about an 8 throughout the entire duration of the film from start to finish. The film itself felt influenced by “j-horror” films (Japanese horror) like “Ju-on: The Grudge” (2002) and “Ringu” (1998). Both of which most Americans saw in their English remakes “The Grudge” (2004) and “The Ring” (2002). It was also reminiscent of early horror films that came out of the mid seventies to mid eighties in terms of feel and tone. Films such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), and what I found to be its most direct influence – 1987’s “Prince of Darkness” which all acted as reference points. I also thought it shared influences with more contemporary films like “Timecrimes” (2007), “Triangle” (2009), and “The House of the Devil” (2009). The latter of which it seemed like it took quite a few notes from as a throwback piece to older, more classic horror films. The music was also integral to the film as it contained a great menacing, pummeling, synthesizer score by the group Disasterpiece. I honestly can say I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the film half as much as I did if it weren’t for the score. It elevates the tension and pacing of the film quite nicely throughout, never giving up steam, and seemed to fit perfectly. If I were to throw in one or two minor complaints of the film it would be that it loses a tad bit of momentum in it’s final quarter. As Jay and her Scooby Doo rag tag team of neighborhood friends take the action to the 8-mile section of Detroit. The events that transpire after this, particularly towards its grand finale, come across as somewhat underwhelming compared to the nerve wracking tension the audience had been privy to prior to this shift in location. But that was just my opinion and my fellow film goer didn’t necessarily feel like that portion of the film detracted from it. With that said I also felt like it ended on a bit of an anti-climactic note. However, despite these two minor criticisms aside, this is as close to something that resembles a masterpiece in the current horror landscape from first time writer/director David Robert Mitchell. Who hits most of the right notes with this highly innovative, singular, and by all accounts terrifying piece of film-making, and has already positioned himself as one the freshest new voices in modern day, American horror.

[B+]

Review: ‘The Sacrament’ 8.31.14

Poor Ti West. For a Writer/Director who’s career showed such early promise with his groundbreaking theatrical debut (he had only made a couple of really small indies prior) – 2009’s ‘The House of the Devil’, one of my top 10-20 films of the past 5 years. Also one in which I showered its praises. I told everybody you had to see this movie because it drew comparisons to some of the great masters of suspense like Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski. This was one of those filmmaking “wunderkinds”, similar to someone like M. Night Shyamalan and ‘The Sixth Sense’, who’s career also started off young and with a bang. And like Shyamalan, every subsequent film he’s put out since then has been considerably worse than its predessesor. West’s 2011’s – ‘The Innkeepers’ was more or less just a rehashing of ideas from ‘The House of the Devil’ both in style and in content. However, whereas ‘The House of the Devil’ was a master class in both wracking suspense and creating a sense of foreboding dread. ‘The Inkeepers’ fell kind of flat with me. I thought the premise of a seemingly haunted hotel with 2 leftover clerks during its final days of closing was shmaltzy and just another excuse for West to cook up another one of his trademark “slo-burners” by roaming his camera around the hotel’s empty rooms and corridors, similar to ‘The House of the Devil’, but in an exercise that I found to be much less effective. Even still, the chills did surmount and their was a fair amount of suspense built up throughout. Just not enough and the ending felt slightly anticlimactic.

Here West is essentially recreating the events of the Reverend Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. A religious group who Jones, because of his opposing viewpoints with America’s opressive ways of living, moved his followers down to South America to create their own Utopia, or what they referred to as “Eden”, in the late seventies. West basically takes this story and spins his own take on it. Presenting it as a fictionalized story when it actuality it couldn’t be more non-fiction. He also shamelessly uses what is becoming overdone specifically with films in this genre, and films it in a POV, hand held, found footage style. Which doesn’t necessarily add anything. If anything it detracts from the story. Why? Because where movies like the ‘Blair Witch Project’ and more recently the ‘VHS’ series actually look like found footage. Nothing here even remotely looks like found footage. In fact, the camera stock comes out looking like there was quite a bit of money put into it. So, sorry Ti but your picture doesn’t resemble anything like that of other films of this type. Furthermore, West also employs his trademark “slo-burning” style once again here. But while it was highly effective in ‘The House of the Devil’ and remotely effective in ‘The Innkeepers’, here it is completely ineffective because we already know how things are going to end (unless of course you are 1% of the population and know nothing about Reverend Jones and Jonestown). That, and when we do finally come to the inevitable ending, West uses shock tactics to show us up close and personal how these people came to their end. Again, nothing effective about this at all whatsoever. For me, when I saw the documentary ‘Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple’ (2006) all I needed to see was the helicopter POV shot of the hundreds of people lying in the field after their demise to really understand how undeniably devastasting this tragic event was. Thank you West, but I don’t need to see people foaming at the mouth or lighting themselves on fire to nail the point home. This was done solely to elicit gasps from the audience which was pointless and unecessary. Why this film was ever even made is beyond me. It’s about as useless as Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot for shot remake of Hitchcock’s beloved ‘Psycho’. Done purely for selfish reasons without even a semblance of having the audience in mind. My best advice for you would be to stay as far from this one as possible.

Grade: D