Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot points we can’t reveal in our review.
“Slackvitism” is a word Eli Roth has been throwing around a lot while promoting his latest trip to the slaughterhouse, The Green Inferno. And while it’s probably a little unfair to hold a publicity campaign against a movie, the rote repetition of that word says a lot about the confused politics of this gory but largely ineffectual grindhouse throwback. Slacktivism is generally defined as vocally pledging support to a political or social cause without actually doing much about it; it’s an insult frequently lobbed at those who use social media as an outlet for outrage, but who never devote any real time or energy to enacting change. Here’s the thing, though: Roth’s characters, a group of students traveling to Peru to combat an evil lumber company, really do put their money where their mouth is. Their big act of defiance involves chaining themselves to trees and filming the deforestation team as they pull out guns and threaten violence. They put themselves in real danger in order to make the company’s actions a national story. That’s not slacktivism. It’s just plain ol’ line-of-fire activism.
Roth does eventually reveal that Alejandro (Ariel Levy), the group’s charismatic leader, has ulterior motives. And because we’re watching a movie from the director of Hostel, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the rest of the students are doing it for the “wrong” reasons, simply stoking their self-righteous egos by getting involved. Regardless of rationale, however, these fictional “social justice warriors” (another dicey expression Roth has been leaning on a lot) are actually out there doing something, which is a lot different than just transforming your computer into a bully pulpit. Roth makes no distinction between the two forms of action, and as a result, The Green Inferno plays like a critique of any form of activism, as though the filmmaker were roasting his characters for having the gall to act on their ideals at all.
That’s most clear in the arc of the protagonist, Justine (Lorenza Izzo), the daughter of a U.N. representative who has a very rude awakening during her first overseas mission. Early scenes establish that Justine’s cause of choice is female genital mutilation, so of course she’ll eventually face that very threat, in a deeply distasteful final ordeal. (To be fair to Roth, he doesn’t go all the way; the Italian directors he worships definitely would have.) Escaping with everything intact, Justine returns to civilization as the only survivor of the cannibal holocaust, and proceeds to lie to the world about what she went through, claiming that rumors of flesh-eating natives were unfounded and that her friends simply died in the plane crash that stranded them in the jungle. So what the hell are we to make of this decision? Justine’s big takeaway appears to be that she was wrong to get involved in the first place, and that it’s better to simply stay out of global affairs—a final point that squares pretty neatly with Roth’s usual isolationist spin on extreme horror.
It’s probably possible to make a horror movie that questions humanitarian intervention, one that could make a convincing case that the global crusades of well-intentioned young Americans—be they missionaries or college students on alternative spring break—do more harm than good, especially when those signing up don’t fully understand the meaning of their actions. The Green Inferno, however, reduces those complicated questions to a blanket condemnation: To Roth, all young activists are either disingenuous or hopelessly naïve, and he makes sure his fictional straw men and straw women pay a big price for their pretensions.