A group of student activists travels to the Amazon to save the rain forest and soon discover that they are not alone, and that no good deed goes unpunished.
Director: Eli Roth • Year: 2013
IMDB Rating: 5.3/10 • My Rating: 3.5/5
After a particularly upsetting lecture about some of the practices still used in the Amazon (namely female circumcision), college student Justine (Izzo) gets involved with an activist group, led by Alejandro (Levy) and his girlfriend Kara (Ignacia Allamand). Spurred on by what she’s learned in class, Justine realises just talking about things isn’t enough and that it’s the doing that counts.
So she finds herself part of a group traveling to the Amazon to save the destruction of the rain forest from a massive logging project. She’s pretty useful to them given her dad is a United Nations attorney and promises to use this connection to raise awareness of the issues at hand.
Our team is made up of a rag tag bunch of pretty much the worst people on the planet, Alejandro being the crown prince of douchery. His do-gooding does not seem to translate into all areas of his personality and he has the compassion of a brick. But he’s easy on the eye and Justine has clocked it – she’s only human after all.
This changes considerably when the group chain themselves to bulldozers and are almost killed by private militia, who are protecting the logging area. BTW the operation has been funded by a drug dealer named Carlos (Matías López), which might tell you all you need to know about the outfit. When Justine is held at gunpoint, Alejandro orders his crew to film everything they see so they can stream it to the world. Kara (I think) goads the machine-gun wielding guard to shoot Justine “and see what happens” – and our heroine starts to question what the fuck she’s doing there.
On the light aircraft home, head thankfully still intact, Justine is pissed off with the smug self-congratulation of her new associates. Nobody seems in the least bit concerned for her welfare despite the video of her near-death experience going viral. Luckily, she’s on her way back home to a comfortable bed, her BFF Kaycee (Sky Ferreira) and her carefree student lifestyle – social activism soon to be a distant memory.
When the plane crashes in the forest, their problems really begin. Half the crew are killed in the accident (lucky bastards), while the survivors are captured by a tribe painted red. They kill Kara with arrows and tranqulise the rest of them, dragging them back to their small but perfectly formed village. The remaining group are thrown into a bamboo cage in the square, while one of the boys, Jonah (Aaron Burns) meets the tribe’s female elder, a lovely warm woman who makes him a cup of tea and lets him flick through old back issues of That’s Life magazine while soaking in the tub. Kidding. She pops out both his eyes, cuts off his tongue and severs his arms and legs, before lopping of his head, all while he’s still alive. Then the tribe eat him.
It’s a bad scene, man.
The gang have obviously witnessed everything and are under no illusion about their fate. Even so, Alejandro has enough energy left in him to joke that at least they chose Jonah first because he had the most flesh and will keep the cannibals busy for longer. One of the girls (forgive me, all the blond white girls merge into one) literally shits herself in front of a group of kids, while they mock her. Things can’t get much worse, can they? May I remind you that this is an Eli Roth picture?
To top it all off Alejandro reveals that he staged their protest to benefit a rival logging company and to prove that deforestation is inevitable. WTF.
When the girls are taken away and given a brutal ‘virginity’ test, it is revealed that Justine is still pristine and pure, so she’s taken away to be prepped for a genital-mutilation party. When she’s returned to the cage, the others lament the fact that she’ll never survive the shock and blood loss of being circumcised. Thanks for the PMA, guys.
The friends enjoy a meaty bite to eat, despite Amy’s veganism but when she finds a chunk of her friends’ skin in the dish, signposted by one of her tattoos, she slashes her own throat and dies horribly. Figuring she’ll be on the menu later that evening, Lars (Daryl Sabara) stuffs a bag of marijuana down her throat, the plan being that while the tribe are off their tits, they can try to escape. Alejandro mocks their ‘Scooby Doo plan’ but it kind of works. King Douche manages to tranq Lars before he can get out of the cage though, while Daniel (Nicolás Martínez) and Justine escape. For a time.
Basically, everyone is killed in one nasty way or another except for the chosen one, Justine, who is painted white and red, all ready for her mutilation ceremony. Eventually the tribe get her back where they want her and she’s just about to be sliced up when the militia rock up, a short distance away. This leads most of the tribe away from the village to fight them. Justine has befriended one of the tribe kids and somehow persuades him to free her in the kerfuffle.
On the way out, Alejandro (still in the cage) begs her to take him with her. When she can’t save Daniel, who’s being feasted on by giant ants, she fucks off leaving Alejandro behind – because honestly, screw you man. This has been a very long review so I’ll park it here. There’s a final girl and there are no prizes for guessing who, she’s brunette and a virgin after all. But Justine takes an interesting stand when questioned later about what went down and I think it’s cool.
This film appears to have been critically panned and at first I was a little puzzled. I actually enjoyed it. However, most of the criticism is leveled at the depiction of the indigenous people and it is distasteful AF. I mean, sure they’re a tribe untouched by civilization and they have ways that have not been governed yet by any law but would they really be devoid of any humanity at all? I think the answer is probably no.
The circumcision thing is horrid but I don’t really understand why they’d bother with Justine. She’s not a local, so what would they care about her rite of passage? Unless I’ve missed some nuance (which let’s face it, is likely). There’s also a lot of gore and in classic Roth-style it’s not always necessary but is always fun. Jonah’s scene particularly is presented with relish and it is naaaaaasty, girl.
However, what I do like are two key things. Roth’s take on the White Saviour complex which seems even more relevant today actually – and the way he ties it up at the end. Justine’s final activism isn’t to demonize the tribe further and have them punished horribly, but to accept that she shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I haven’t seen this done in such a way anywhere else that I can remember and I dug it.
I really disliked most of the activists too and there’s no way that’s a coincidence. In all honesty, Jonah and Daniel, along with Justine were probably the best of the bunch but beyond that I was rooting for the tribes people. That eye-popping scene though, man. 👀