Midnight Madness Report: Interview With Green Inferno Director Eli Roth

eli roth

eli roth

For the past six years, Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) has been busy producing (The Last Exorcism), writing (The Man with the Iron Fists), and acting (Inglourious Basterds) in the films of his peers, but with The Green Inferno he finally returns to directing. Enthusiastically received at the Toronto International Film Festival, this is a surprisingly palatable revival of the shocking cannibal sub genre that gained notoriety in the late ʼ70s and early ʼ80s. Roth traces his obsession with these movies to the mystique that surrounded Ruggero Deodatoʼs Cannibal Holocaust when he discovered it as a 19-year-old. “I found it in a laserdisc store and I was shocked that I didnʼt know about it,” he said. “The only one that made it over to where I lived in Boston was a film called Cannibal Ferox when it was titled Make Them Die Slowly. I remember as a kid watching these movies and feeling like they were made by convicted criminals that actually killed people. Watching Cannibal Holocaust, I was totally convinced they had a dead girl impaled on a pike with a spike coming out of her mouth.”

Rothʼs initial impressions were incorrect. As it turned out, Deodato just had a knack for presenting vivid reality onscreen, thanks to his surprising professional background. “He was Roberto Rosselliniʼs AD (assistant director) and really learned from him and worked on Rome Open City. He basically took Italian neorealism and applied it to the horror genre, to the cannibal genre.”

Roth captures a similar sense of reality in much of The Green Inferno. This is largely the result of his decision to cast a real tribe from a remote part of Peru. “We showed up there and I said to my producer, ʻCan we film here?ʼ And he said, ʻWe have to tell them what a film is. Theyʼve never seen a television. Theyʼve never heard of a movie.ʼ I showed them my camera, it was the first time theyʼd ever seen one. We had to conceptually explain to them what we were doing, so the producers came back with a television and a generator and showed the entire village Cannibal Holocaust, so thereʼs five-year-old kids and their only frame of reference for a movie is Cannibal Holocaust. They thought it was the funniest thing theyʼd ever seen.”

cannibal holocaust

While Roth was inspired by the exploitation films of his youth, he took just as much inspiration from reality. A passing reference to Ron Frickeʼs celebrated documentary Baraka strikes a chord with the director. “Baraka is the perfect reference because itʼs not a grindhouse-style film. Iʼm not trying to replicate Cannibal Holocaust. Now that I think about it, this film is way more Baraka influenced than I think even I realized until right now that you just said it. We really researched the Amazonian tribes and what they look like and the way they paint themselves and the way they camouflage and the bones and the jewelry they wear.”

The Green Infernoʼs protagonists—a group of clumsy, naïve college activists—come into contact with the tribe during a protest in the region. Through these characters, Roth wanted to express his belief that much of modern activism is lazy and insincere. “Now with this modern form of activism that I call ʻslacktivismʼ or ʻreactivism,ʼ itʼs basically kids just hitting the retweet button. I mean, how much in your Twitter feed is whateverʼs going on that week, whether itʼs something as serious as Syria or Free Pussy Riot or Kony 2012. People now have the power to have a voice and they love to get caught up in these causes, but everyoneʼs doing the bare minimum amount of work. Itʼs so easy to push a button on your phone, rather than inconvenience your own life.”

Roth also wanted to show the degree to which technology shields modern Americans from reality—and suggest what might become of them in its absence. “I thought this was a great way to tell a modern story where youʼre taking these kids from New York City in the most high tech world. Theyʼre very tech savvy and youʼre stripping them down to the barest elements of mankind. Theyʼre in the jungle with people that will just see them as meat and their phones donʼt matter. Theyʼre stripped away to absolutely nothing.”


From the way Roth describes the tribe members he worked with, itʼs clear he has a great deal of affection for them. While they spend much of the film eating our protagonists, they may be the most likable characters in The Green Inferno. With that in mind, the director is frustrated by criticism of the filmʼs racial politics. In fact, he sees this as yet another example of slacktivism. “Everyone gets so stupid and self-righteous because they have a Twitter account and everyone wants to call everything racist. When people come out and theyʼre trying to act like, ʻI donʼt want to endorse the movie,ʼ itʼs all about them not wanting to be seen as racist. Thatʼs the point of the movie. These idiots—and the characters—arenʼt doing that because they believe in a cause, itʼs because they want to make themselves look good. They do it in very subtle ways like, ʻIʼm a cool guy and I like controversial things, but I donʼt like the way the natives were portrayed.ʼ None of those people could point out where Peru is on a map. And thatʼs the whole point of the movie.”