Director Eli Roth with extras from a Peruvian tribe whose village was near the set of The Green Inferno. (Eduardo Moreno)
Eli Roth may be 43 years old, but he has the face of someone younger and far more innocent and speaks with the chipper exuberance that one would not expect from a man who has worked as a major director for the past 15 years. In both his appearance and cadence, it is hard to believe that he would be responsible for directing some of the most gory, harrowing scenes of torture imaginable on the screen, until one listens to his description of filming his latest movie, The Green Inferno.
Comparing it to the last film that ventured so far into the jungles of South America, Werner Herzog’s classic Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Roth exclaims, “I wanted a film that people could say to me for the rest of my life: ‘Are you fucking insane? How did you do that?’”
This is the type of thing that one could expect from famous madman Herzog, but nothing about Roth’s appearance connotes any sense of hubris or insanity. Yet when Roth filmed The Green Inferno, he attempted filmmaking feats that call to mind Herzog or Francis Ford Coppola when he filmed Apocalypse Now, which Roth cites as a comparison to this film.
“I wanted to do things you couldn’t do in America, because the safety laws are different,” Roth says when describing how he filmed a critical plane crash in the film. “It looks so real because the screams were real. There was no SAG rep that was going to fly 12,000 miles to Chile to monitor it.”
According to Roth, the actors in the scene had to hope that the driver of a truck hit the plane in just the right spot while it was suspended 45 feet in the air. Fortunately for those actors, which included Roth’s wife, Lorenza Izzo, the driver’s aim was true.
These are the type of revelations that might garner outrage on Twitter, and this sense of disproportionate anger on social media is part of the reason why Roth wrote The Green Inferno, with its idealistic college students who venture into the jungle in order to save the rain forest, only to be caught by a tribe of cannibals. Just as he wrote Cabin Fever based on a fear of AIDS and disease, and Hostel as a reaction to the idea of George W. Bush’s America as the world police who could buy and sell anything, it was Twitter-shaming that gave him the idea to write The Green Inferno.
Citing various social media outrages that occurred while he wrote the film, from Kony 2012 to Pussy Riot to Boko Haram, Roth notes that “the kids in the movie don’t care about saving the rain forest, they care about being recognized for caring,” and mocks them for being most happy when their efforts are retweeted by CNN. “They made the main page of Reddit. Boom!”
Filming amidst a tribe from a Peruvian village that did not even have electricity posed several challenges for Roth, but one of them was not the idea that the villagers would be corrupted by modern society. The younger children of the tribe are taken to school in the village each week, and while they had never seen ice cubes before, they still knew who Justin Bieber, Shakira and Pitbull are.
“All they wanted was to be part of the modern world,” he says. “The younger kids speak Spanish and refuse to learn the native language because it’s an old person’s language.”
On the first day, the tribe members were fascinated by cold beverages, he notes, but by the third day, they were taking selfies.
Roth has nothing but praise for the members of the tribe who were extras in the movie, affectionately calling one little girl a diva and noting how the children came up with an idea to threaten the actors with a baby python, which despite not being poisonous, still had sharp fangs. Roth even muses how the actors in the film were impressed by the physical stamina of even the elderly tribe members.
“Even the old guys, at 70 years old, had 12-packs,” Roth jokes. “We were asking them, ‘Who’s your trainer?’”
Roth gives the sense that despite the challenges and dangers of filming The Green Inferno, from encounters with pythons to bouts of diarrhea, it was still an enjoyable set for the cast and crew, although not for every person who came in contact with them. While filming a scene in which the professional actors were tied up and threatened by the natives, a pontoon boat arrived on the river filled with Christian missionaries from a super-church in Texas. The missionaries cried out “El Diablo! El Diablo!” as they saw the tied-up Americans and the prop heads on spikes, but Roth assured them that the the danger wasn’t quite real.
“‘It’s not the devil, it’s the Jewish guy from Inglourious Basterds with the bat,’” Roth recalls saying. “They were fucking petrified.”
The Green Inferno releases in theaters Sept. 25.