Filmmaker Eli Roth was literally discovered at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2002 when his first feature Cabin Fever premiered as part of the “Midnight Madness” section. Since then, he’s been back a number of times, with that movie’s follow-up Hostel and last year with Aftershock, which he co-wrote, produced and starred in.
It’s been six years since Roth directed a feature length film, which is why there’s so much excitement surrounding The Green Inferno‘s premiere during the 25th Anniversary of “Midnight Madness.” Roth also produced Ti West’s latest movie The Sacrament, which didn’t make it into “Midnight Madness,” although it’s not really a horror movie as such, more of a psychological thriller, although there are certainly interesting parallels and contrasts between the two movies (especially when you see them back-to-back, as I did).
The Green Inferno reunites much of the cast from Aftershock with Lorenza Izzo playing a college student from a prestigious family – her father is a lawyer at the United Nations – who is convinced by a charismatic activist name Alejandro (Ariel Levy) to travel down to Peru where large companies are tearing down the rain forest. Their idea is to disrupt the work and stop the endangerment of the area’s indigenous tribe who rely on the trees to survive. Once they’ve accomplished what they set out to do and before you can say, “Sting was trying to save the rain forests first, Eli,” their tiny prop plane goes down, killing roughly half of them. Those who died had it good as the half dozen survivors are found and captured by the local tribe and taken to their camp for reasons far more horrifying. They’re thrown into a cage but not before watching the largest of them, the kindly Jonah, slaughtered, cooked and eaten by the tribe. Yes, kids, they have become the main course for one of the Amazon’s main cannibal tribes. Nevermind the fact that they have plenty of cows and pigs everywhere, because everyone knows that human is the other, other white meat. Once you know where Roth is going with this, you can sit back and enjoy each of the survivors die in a spectacularly gory way thanks to the always great work of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger of KNB EFX.
Roth has created a fun and interesting twist on the travelogue sub-genre of horror where a group of people go somewhere and enjoy a foreign land before being systematically slaughtered. In other words, it should sit nicely on the shelf next to Roth’s previous films. What Roth brings to the mix as a far more experienced filmmaker is that the entire movie looks amazing, far better than many horror movies with twice the budget, and he also never loses sight of establishing the characters and making the audience actually care when something happens to them. As gory as the movie gets, you don’t get the impression Roth enjoys killing off these characters, and that’s the signs of a far more mature director although he does throw in a few low-brow gags in hopes of getting easy laughs.
Ti West goes off in a slightly different direction with The Sacrament, a movie that delves into Blair Witch territory as it follows two members of the internet news group VICE – played by West’s You’re Next castmates AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg, the latter lugging around the ever-present video camera – who travel to parts unknown to check out the commune where their photographer friend’s sister now resides. She invites her brother down to visit but the VICE guys tag along in hopes of getting a story for the site. Eden Parish is in the middle of the jungle in a third world country surrounded by armed guards, which immediately sets off alarms, but once they arrive, it seems like a peaceful working community. After interviewing various residents, all of whom call it paradise, Sam is granted an interview with the mysterious “Father” who runs the place.
Like Roth, Ti West is so good at the slow build, taking his time to establish the characters and their personalities so you actually give a sh*t when things start happening to them, and Bowen does a good job carrying the movie with a role that always has him on camera. Swanberg, being the cameraman, relegates himself to being heard rather than seen in order to maintain the illusion that the footage we’re watching comes from his camerawork.
Gerry Jones gives a great performance as “Father,” and the way he dresses, complete with sunglasses, it’s pretty obvious West was going for a Jim Jones type character, something that ends up being such a giveaway about what’s to come later. The extended sequence of “Father” being interviewed by Sam is the strongest section of the movie that does a good job letting the audience know something isn’t quite right with the people of Eden Parish while foreshadowing what’s to come later. Amy Seimez (also from You’re Next) is decent as the catalyst who brings them there and who acts as Father’s helper.
The movie doesn’t feel as original as some of West’s previous movies, probably because it follows so soon after something like Kevin Smith’s Red State, but also because if you know what happened at Jonestown, it’s really not that big a surprise when things go pear-shaped. As intense as it gets, The Sacrament doesn’t deliver anywhere near the gory thrills as The Green Inferno once bodies start dropping, so horror enthusiasts may be somewhat disappointed by it as well.
The Green Inferno ends up being a far more entertaining movie that’s more likely to appeal to a mass audience of horror fans, although The Sacrament has enough solid dramatic moments that make it far more interesting than the typical “found footage” movie.
The Green Inferno – 7.5/10 Rating
The Sacrament – 7/10 Rating