Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why I am excited about The Green Inferno

A friend of mine - not someone I know well, but someone I share at least some tastes with, especially in the realm of music - was kind of taken aback to discover that I've been drooling for months over the cinematic debut of Eli Roth's new film The Green Inferno, which opens worldwide on Sept. 25th (ie. THIS WEEKEND!). His reaction was as disgusted as it was puzzled - something along the line of - What, are you sick? You want to see people tortured and eaten? What's wrong with you? But yes, yes I do. I have very high expectations of this film - so high, in fact, that it's going to be a challenge for the movie to live up to them. But it just may, it just may. I'll be catching it this weekend, and will try to report back ASAP.

Allow me to explain my excitement in advance of seeing the film.

If anyone asks me, the most important development in contemporary horror cinema is beyond a doubt the globalization of backwoods horror films. Backwoods horror films (Deliverance, The Hills Have  Eyes, Rituals, I Spit On Your Grave, Eden Lake - there are lots of examples) function, as Carol J. Clover observes in the rape/ revenge chapter of Men, Women and Chainsaws; Gender in the Modern Horror film - reputedly Quentin Tarantino's favourite book of film theory, and certainly one of mine - as both an archetypal trial, a sort of adult fairy-tale variation on the Little Red Riding Hood theme, where civilization ventures into the forest and undergoes an ordeal; and as a parable of class relations, where the privileged white middle class is confronted with the blood on its hands, at first figuratively (via encounters with the victims of class disparity, from whose impoverishment the middle class profits, as in the case of Deliverance), and then literally, as our "heroes" are forced to fight for their right to exist, to get their hands dirty, and, in the face of certain death, to finally assert their privilege through the act of killing the poor. Clover doesn't emphasize a third  aspect of the films, as I recall, an underlying psychology at work in the best of them, like Calvaire, say, where the "ordeal" corrects or addresses a character flaw in the hero, subjects him (or her) to a process of expiation through pain, allows our hero to become a better, stronger person through suffering, such that the films mark a sort of rite-of-passage, a transformative ordeal...  Her analysis could be greatly expanded upon along these lines - or, say, by looking at the suppression of homosexuality that is key to the rite of passage of Deliverance, one of the most interesting and eye-opening cases of deep homophobia I've ever encountered on screen - but her insights are fascinating and eye opening, and will greatly enrich your reading of any of these films. And she's not even writing about the ways in which these films are increasingly being set in an expanded geopolitical sphere....

My recent enthusiasm for the Dowdle brothers' film No Escape - see last month's posts - has everything to do with its participation in this subgenre, but the real hero of the current movement, where our heroes are taken out of rural America and located (and made to suffer) in the third/ fourth/ developing world, is Eli Roth. There may be precedents - certainly the Italian cannibal films that The Green Inferno references are relevant here - but Roth's Hostel films were the first and probably the most important major films to set off the current and ongoing wave (which also includes The Ruins, Turistas, Wolf Creek, Borderland, Vinyan, and many other recent horror films of varying quality and importance). In all of these films, the disparity between American haves and non-American have nots replaces the same disparity in urban/ rural America, and the character flaws addressed (arrogance, privilege, presumption) are seen specifically as aspects of the American character ("ugly Americanism"). (I should mention that I include myself, a Canadian, as an American; I make no distinction between my nationality and theirs for the purposes of these films).

It's particularly interesting when the punishment doled out in these films takes the form of torture - a very relevant topic in the post 9/11 world, and something very important to the Hostel movies. Roth says explicitly in the commentaries for the Hostel films that he intended them to speak to Bush's America; some people quibble about this, but I have a hard time seeing them any other way. Even if aspects of the films, particularly the first film, might have been a bit reactionary - placing Americans as the victims of torture, say, and not the perpetrators - it was very, very exciting to see someone using genre to point out American guilt, American privilege, the blood on America's hands, and the hostility the rest of the world was feeling towards America as the Bushies marched on into Iraq. The extent to which the films were an unsettling experience makes them at least potentially progressive, a confrontation that America needs and deserves, even if on some level American audiences seemed to ENJOY that confrontation... The films certainly were ripe for film geek analysis...

Now, there has been fuss about The Green Inferno's depiction of indigenous peoples as cannibals, coming from people who have not seen it, but the focus, to me, of such complaints, seems to be off (bearing in mind that I haven't seen the film either, yet!). What's likely to be important and relevant about The Green Inferno is the ways in which it provides on the one hand a cathartic working through of the guilt that Americans have over being such a spoiled, soft nation, and the relationship of a certain do-gooder aspect of the American character to their class privilege. I don't really know where Roth will go with it - if cannibalism will be connected to consumer culture, say? - but I'm very, very interested and excited, expecting something as thought-provoking as it is visceral. The premise - young Americans are imprisoned and eaten by the people they thought they were protecting, in a rain forest considerably less idyllic than the one they imagined - is brilliant... It all may be a bit masochistic, but it's nonetheless very, very interesting to me.

So that's why I'll be seeing The Green Inferno this weekend, if anyone is curious. Can it possibly live up to my expectations? I doubt it. Will it sicken me at times? I expect it will. Will I bring my girlfriend? Heck no. Anyone wanting to see it with me, though, is more than welcome...

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