With found footage having long ago supplanted torture porn as the horror subgenre du jour, the prospect of a new Eli Roth movie might seem even more dubious than it was during the director's heyday. The Green Inferno arrives in theaters two years after making the festival rounds and a full eight since Hostel: Part II doubled down on everything that made Roth stand out in the first place, giving devotees and doubters alike ample time to brace for this foray into a remote jungle in which meat is very much on the menu. Though that won't make Roth's affinity for ghoulish dismemberment any easier for squeamish viewers to stomach, the fact that his sensibilities are better suited to comedy than they are to horror does help it go down more easily.
Funnier than it is scary and grosser than it is funny, The Green Inferno features a number of early scenes that would appear to be setting us up for a slacker comedy. Much to the chagrin of her sardonic roommate Kaycee (a scene-stealing Sky Ferreira), wide-eyed freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo, to whom Roth was married last year) halfheartedly joins a campus activist group whose current mission is to descend upon Peru and save the rainforest. Our heroine, whose genuine concern pairs nicely with her crush on the group's charismatic leader, is suddenly all in. She and her cohorts fly to the Amazon with all the good intentions, (self-)righteousness, and false confidence you'd expect of such an idealistic bunch. In a movie like this, that's usually when you start asking, What could go wrong?
A characteristically cruel irony awaits: A plane crash strands them in the same vast rainforest they've just chained themselves to bulldozers to save. They're not alone, of course, and the cannibalistic locals they've endeavored to protect prove considerably less welcoming than the gun-wielding militia supporting the deforestation efforts. Roth practically dares us to take any of this seriously or form any attachment to these people — that way we don't particularly mind when Justine's friends start getting torn apart by the natives.
If this feels less sadistic than, say, either Hostel movie, it also gives little reason to do anything more than roll your eyes when things go pear-shaped. There are a few clever moments throughout their ordeal — try not to laugh at how casually the tribeswomen chat while preparing a dead body for cooking — but not enough to elicit much goodwill.
Roth draws inspiration from Ruggero Deodato's infamous Cannibal Holocaust. (The title is that of Deodato's film-within-a-film.) In attempting to live up to that controversial legacy, Roth amplifies that exploitation flick's least interesting components (gore, cruelty) at the expense of all others. The more brutal this becomes, the less anything other than blood and guts seems to matter. Just because watching every gory detail of a man getting torn limb from limb turns the stomach doesn't mean it quickens the pulse.