by Tony Johnson 09.29.2015 57 days ago
at 04:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spoonful of Cinema: The Green Inferno

Whether or not you like The Green Inferno probably depends on whether or not you can put up with the guy at parties who says, “I don’t want to be that guy, but…” and then suggests something inconvenient (usually they want your food). This gore-fest of a horror film knows it’s being “that guy.” But does acknowledging one’s faults make them automatically forgivable? Director Eli Roth’s latest effort to gross us out is propped up against the backdrop of the Amazon rainforest. Like many of his films before (Cabin Fever, Hostel), it focuses on a naïve protagonist venturing to unfamiliar territory. When Justine (Lorenza Izzo) finds herself teaming up with a social activism group at college aiming to end the destruction of the rainforests inhabited by indigenous tribes, she doesn’t just sign up to hold a rally at a capitol building or egg a corporation’s headquarters. She signs up to go into the jungle, which is currently a warzone between industry and indigenous tribes. Justine ignores the risks because she thinks the leader of the student activists is really, really hot. One of their planes eventually crash-lands, leaving them in the middle of the jungle with no sense of direction and no GPS. In a turn of events soaked with irony, the students who are attempting to save the indigenous people from neocolonial expansion are mistaken for workers of the aggressive enterprisers and are brought in as prisoners by the unnamed tribe. Once the students are locked in a cell, we quickly learn that the students are not so much captives as they are cattle. The tribe is cannibalistic, and it seems that the only thing they revel in more than eating human flesh is the ceremonial torturing of it. The Green Inferno knows exactly how wrong it is, and Eli Roth is laughing all the way. It is a campy, tongue-in-cheek, refreshing throwback to the likes of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, although its premise does directly call back to Cannibal Holocaust, even if the film at hand doesn’t match up to either of the two grindhouse horror classics. Roth wastes no time trying to get us to genuinely care for any of the characters, most of whom cannot help but exude privilege even in the most typical of conversations. Rather than try to get us to root for the survival of a group of heroes, he gets us to pity Justine along the way. Roth hopes that we become overwhelmed not only by the buckets of blood spurting from victims’ severed limbs or heads, but also by the insurmountable misfortune that Justine attracts. She serves as a sort of doppelganger to the unsuspecting moviegoer that unwittingly finds themself in a showing of The Green Inferno. Way in over her head, constantly shocked by the brutality of her apparent fate and always trying to plot ways to escape when she isn’t trying to contribute to another prisoner’s plan, Justine may represent that weak-stomached tag-along in the group of friends who shouldn’t have come to this movie. And I am warning you: Any popcorn you eat is coming right back up if you aren’t ready for Roth’s demented exposé. Better yet, Justine might be seen as the squeamish piece in all of us that we can’t help but hear in the back of our minds saying, “Get me out of this theater.” And that’s where The Green Inferno really burns brightest — in its ability to make us cringe, make us looks away from the screen for brief moments, make us wish were brave enough to keep watching. It differs in an essential manner from the all-out seriousness of last month’s similarly plotted No Escape. But while the Owen Wilson-led action flick felt heavy-handed and unapologetic in its possibly xenophobic premise, The Green Inferno is packed with enough despicable victims that it doesn’t feel like the American college students are helpless against foreign customs. It just feels like they’re getting what’s coming to them. They are a carefully crafted crew of stereotypical archetypes with foul mouths and insensitive opinions. Some are homophobic. Some seem racist. One smokes pot, one plays guitar and two of them are partially along for the trip to the Amazon in an attempt to eventually get laid. Before our characters get captured, tortured and perhaps killed, we are given ample reason to wish it upon them. Despite any of the premise’s inherent faults, Roth understands that if we want to celebrate the relentless cannibalistic carnage that he so desperately loves, the deaths must not be tragic, but a release. That’s where the unlikable characters become so useful. I caught myself grimacing as much at what the characters said as when I witnessed their respective dooms, but I also caught myself occasionally laughing at the grotesque images of severed limbs, gauged eye sockets and impaled skulls. There’s no getting around the uncomfortable dull-mindedness of its protagonists, but for all of its bumps and bruises, The Green Inferno mostly slashes, burns and bleeds its way to a good time. And it’s not in spite of how unlikable the characters are. It’s because of how unlikable they are. But just because I mostly had a good time doesn’t mean I was mostly impressed. The Green Inferno delivers where it should and comes up short where you might expect. The dialogue serves its purpose but drags its feet, and I’m not sure that the attempted commentary on globalism hits its mark. None of the actors shine — although to be fair, this is an Eli Roth film, where acting is but a mechanism to eventually get your head chopped off. The most troubling conceptual piece of the movie comes with its script’s big “reveal” moment. Underlying hidden motivations for their trip are eventually unveiled to the students upon their capturing and it absolutely reeks of a “ghost in the machine.” Even though the twist tries to serve as an anti-neocolonial statement, it comes across as just a hollow plot device that could have been solved somehow else. Still, the point isn’t to be impressed with a social commentary, stellar acting or a remarkable plot when you walk in the theater for a cannibal horror flick. The point is that the subtext, performances and story amplify the fear of intense physical pain, the fear of a slow tortuous death and the fear that the worst things can happen to people who believe that they are working to create a better world. In that regard, The Green Inferno is definitely worth a viewing for horror enthusiasts despite its missteps and it is also a must-avoid for the weak of stomach. If it were any bloodier, you would have to bring a bib. If it were any better, you would have to see it to believe it. Grade: C
by Tony Johnson 09.16.2015 70 days ago
at 02:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
universal pictures

Spoonful of Cinema: The Visit

The Visit is a change-up for M. Night Shyamalan. Kind of. The man notorious for refusing to make a movie that doesn’t have a massive twist, usually in the final few moments of the film, has brought us Academy Award-nominated The Sixth Sense, but he has also brought us Razzie-nominated films like The Happening and (gulp) After Earth. So when he decided to try to get back to his roots of suspense and horror and away from his misadventures in big budget nonsense, I decided I would take a flier. The premise surrounding The Visit is as straightforward and crisp as vintage Shaymalan could get. Two grandchildren, Becca and Tyler, armed with digital cameras, go to visit their never-met grandparents and things get a little… spooky. Grandpa is wildly paranoid. Grandma wanders around at night, sometimes on all fours, sometimes scratching the wall the way a housecat would a scratching post. Grandma gets a kick out of having Becca climb in the oven — “all the way in” — to clean it. Of course with Shyamalan, it can’t be all that simple. That would be too fun to watch. There’s a Shyamalan-trademark family drama needlessly bubbling underneath the otherwise self-explanatory event. Becca and Tyler’s mother, played by Kathryn Hahn, eloped against her parents’ will only to be ditched by her husband once Tyler, the younger of the siblings, was born. It feels like a cheap way to get us to fear for the kids’ fates, and feels even more like a waste of my time in the theater. Shyamalan really lays the family-love on thick throughout, doing his damnedest to get us to pray to whatever we believe in that the grandparents are only very strange, somewhat sick elderly folk and not the perhaps murderous plotters looking to claim vengeance on their daughter’s rebellious days that we can’t help but suspect. Speaking of trying to get us to like the characters, I really have to wonder what in the world I was supposed to like about Tyler, the tween-ish boy counterpart to his much more likable older sister, Becca. Tyler is annoying. I don’t like his voice, I don’t like how clever he thinks he is and I don’t like that he raps about cake. He drives me nuts. I really can’t understate how obnoxious this freaking kid is, and I remember thinking to myself very honestly, “Please, if only one of these kids makes it out of the visit alive, take Tyler.” While I imagine Shyamalan was trying to make the kids a sort of duality in the sense that one is female and modest while the other is male and blurts whatever is on his immature mind, M. Night really just makes one kid seem like an angel and the other seem like that accumulation of snot you get in your nose (sometimes only one nostril, now that’s the worst) overnight when you have the flu. To all you Louis C.K. fans out there, Tyler is essentially my Jizanthapus. He’s a kid, and I shouldn’t despise him, but… I totally despise and I won’t lose a second of sleep over it. For all I know, young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould — unfortunate enough to be cast as Tyler — has a bright career ahead of him. If he does, this performance will be that embarrassing moment he doesn’t want brought up in interviews. The worst part is, this isn’t his fault. Shyamalan really went to great lengths to create one of the lamest characters of the year, and perhaps of his career (and that is really saying something). But after we get past the fact that the movie is split three-quarters the way of solid horror flick, one-quarter sappy family drama and after we put up with Tyler’s painful inclination to rap about nonsense off-beat in random moments, we are still forced to come to grips with the found-footage direction style of the film. No longer a fresh way to frame a horror flick, the found-footage approach is honestly executed with a surprising volume of youthful energy from the veteran filmmaker behind the cameras (all two of them). The Blair Witch Project may have popularized (and perhaps immediately perfected) the style for scare-tactics all the way back in 1999 (ironically the same year Shyamalan popularized himself with The Sixth Sense) but the method seems to still have something to offer the world of horror films. The “jump scares” are tastefully sparse and truly give audiences the surprised shouts we crave heading into a theater for a scary movie like The Visit. I tend to be more impressed with the “slow-burn” scares that push horror films into the realm of classics, and while The Visit offers enough paranoia to keep us in the theater, it also falls flat on its face often enough to be make us raise an eyebrow. I found myself laughing every three or four times I was supposed to be shaking in my seat. That’s not a good formula for a good horror film. While I’m on the subject, let me just be clear: This is not a good any-kind-of film, and it basically derails its own formula. When a film has one half of a protagonist duo of grandkids that is utterly unlikable and one half of an antagonistic duo of grandparents makes you chuckle when you know you’re supposed to be screaming, the movie doesn’t come out on top. It comes out low (but not the lowest) on the Shayamalan scale, but with a much more bitter taste than most of his failures. There’s a good movie somewhere in The Visit. Perhaps this one is on the editor, but I’ve been too disappointed too many times by M. Night to believe anyone but the writer/director deserves most of my negative feelings toward the horror flick. While The Happening and After Earth were downright disastrous implosions, The Visit has just enough redeeming qualities to keep us generally on board, somewhat intrigued and mostly entertained. But that’s not what Shyamalan wants us to feel. It’s not what I want either, but it’s what we got. If you’ve been holding out for a Shyamalan comeback, this may not be the trip you want to take a chance on. Grade: D

Indie Horror Reinvigorates the Genre

0 Comments · Wednesday, April 1, 2015
In The Babadook, we get Amelia (Essie Davis), a put-upon single mother struggling to overcome the trauma of losing her husband while raising an emotionally challenged son named Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who fears the monster lurking under his bed and on the pages of a new book in his bedtime collection.  

Shriek Week

The HorrorHound convention is a mecca for local fans of the genre

0 Comments · Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Once a year Cincinnati likes to let the freaks out — but we’re not talking about Halloween. After a 16-month absence, HorrorHound Weekend descends onto Sharonville promising vis-à-vis celebrity encounters, film screenings, burlesque performances and horror author signings.  

Fear Factor

Halloween is the perfect time to investigate filmic phobias

0 Comments · Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Halloween and cinema were made for each other. Open your door to the waves of trickor-treaters or head out to any costume party and you'll find a mad mass of horror movie monsters staring back at you.