Eli Roth, the horror director behind the Hostel series whose name has become shorthand for brutally wincing, gory cinema, is well aware that you may hate his new movie, The Green Inferno.
The director's latest stomach-churner centers on a group of liberal U.S. college students whose humanitarian trip to South America is derailed when their plane crashes in the Amazon rainforest. These twentysomethings are then rounded up by village natives and subsequently tortured, murdered and eaten in a series of boundary-pushing scenes that has divided critics and audiences based on one's gore tolerance. Like most of R0th's movies, it's not to a film to be enjoyed so much as endured.
"You don't make movies like the kind that I make to be universally loved," Roth tells Rolling Stone. "You make them because you want to provoke and you want a reaction. The best thing that people can say is, 'I couldn't watch it' or ' I watched it with my eyes closed.' If I've really done my job as a director, nobody can actually watch your movie. They're watching the inside of their hand. You don't want people walking out of a movie; you want them running out of the theater screaming. When that happens, that's like a standing ovation for me."
Calling the Hostel series "warm-ups" for Inferno, Roth looked to the Italian cannibal films of the 1970s and early Eighties as his primary inspiration. While Ruggero Deodato's infamous Cannibal Holocaust has snared all the comparisons – due, in part, to The Green Inferno getting its title from Holocaust's film-within-a-film – Roth adds to a long-dormant subgenre famous for movies like Cannibal Ferox, Mountain of the Cannibal God and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals.
"I love those films because they really went into the Amazon and filmed with real natives," Roth says. "There's no CGI or special effects; they're really doing it. I think this type of dangerous filmmaking is lost. So many movies are made in a computer and you get masterpieces like Gravity and Avatar, but those are far and few between. Most have become very safe and boring. I wanted to make a movie where the audience members go, 'The people that made this movie were completely insane. How the hell did you do this?'"
Like his cannibal-obsessed predecessors who prized verisimilitude above all else, Roth and his team scouted villages along Peru's Huallaga River, looking for tribes who have been largely untethered from western civilization. They settled on the Callanayacu tribe on the Pongo de Aguirre, the same part of the river where Werner Herzog filmed his epic 1972 conquistador film Aguirre, Wrath of God. "We went 20 minutes past that just so we can claim we went farther than him," Roth says, laughing. "I had to find a village that looked like it was untouched by modern man, but also one where you could bring a film crew."
This desire for hyper-real horror has its cost, though, as many reviews have accused Roth of cultural appropriation and cinematic imperialism.
It's an accusation Roth shrugs off. "They're farmers, so they mostly spend all their day in the field," Roth says. "The idea that they could make 10 times the amount of money they'd make in a day by pretending to be someone else, they thought it was hilarious. They're like, 'We can't believe you actually get to do this.' It was an education process, but they got it right away and loved it."