Young Americans are on the menu in ‘The Green Inferno’

Here is a gruesome question that can be asked in the spirit of the Halloween season:

Would you rather be consumed by zombies or cannibals?

Since the end result really isn’t all the desirable for the victim, the answer obviously would be: neither. However, if a person is up for offering an either/or answer, the better option might be the cannibals. After all, zombies just unceremoniously rip apart and devour victims raw — no thought put in at all for a zesty table presentation. Cannibals, or at least the ones featured in “The Green Inferno,” do take time to prepare their entrees so that the victim can go out with style and taste.

Zombies have overshadowed cannibals in recent years, although cannibalism became elegant and cerebral in the hands (and mouth) of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Still, good old gory cannibal movies seemed to have lost their way.

Well, leave it Eli Roth to set them on the right path again.

Roth, an actor, writer and director, has built a reputation through his “Cabin Fever” and “Hostel” for for not holding back in his explicit depictions of horrendous violence. While some have claimed his “The Green Inferno” may not be as horrifying as Ruggero Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust” (1980), it is definitely an homage to the genre and delivers on the blood and guts that hard core horror fans demand.

It takes a while before “The Green Inferno” gets into the crunch time (sorry), as the first half of the film is devoted to building the story and developing the characters.

The featured character is Justine (Lorenza Izzo, who despite all that director Roth put her through in this movie married him anyway last November), a college freshman who finds herself drawn into the campus activism. She is particularly attracted to Alejandro (Ariel Levy), a charismatic activist, and joins his group as it plans a risky protest in Peru.

The group is targeting developers who are bulldozing through the rain forest in the Amazon, not only killing vegetation but also threatening to exterminate a tribe that has been living in the forest for thousands of years. The activists have no weapons but are armed with mobile devices to record any possible violence and make sure any ugly incidents go viral.

So there is the usual build-up to this, along with an opportunity to inject some personality into the characters.

During the protest, Justine learns that the romanticism of activism can be easily crushed by brutal reality, not to mention cynicism by the people pulling the strings. But her troubles — along with everyone else’s — are just beginning.

Flying out of the Amazon after the protest that ends with them all of being rounded up and put back on their plane, the rickety aircraft crashes, and one can immediately sense that those who died in the crash were the lucky ones.

Traumatized by the crash, the survivors soon find themselves surrounded by members of a primitive tribe in which all but the top two leaders are wearing a red body paint. Tied up and taken to the village, where they are caged, the activists soon get an explicit preview of what is in for them.

Those familiar with Roth’s style will not be surprised at the brutal scene in which the first activist is prepared as a meal. It is cringe-inducing.

Roth does not pour it on with showing other victims as they are sliced and diced and set to be oven-baked. Instead he focuses on the dehumanization of the activists, whose interaction among themselves reveal the serious flaws in character.

The unnerving aspect of “The Green Inferno” is that the tribe members are not really evil. They simply are a product of their culture. They go about their bloody business with a serene sense of community. Ultimately, Justine is the only one of the prisoners able to make any connection with some of the villagers.

A wonderful aspect of Roth’s movies is that you cannot be assured there will be a happy ending or a chance at redemption. Justine appears to be The Final Girl, but given what Roth likes to do in his films, there is no guarantee of her survival.

An Eli Roth movie is not one for the mass audience. Even fans of horror movies have to really be engaged in viewing brutal and terrifying violence. Roth dares you to watch and and not squirm in your seat. One wonders, however, if Roth is deliberately slow in getting to the gore in his movies in order to allow people in the audience a chance to finish eating their popcorn before the blood and guts become the main attraction.