Liberty or Horror?

Why not both?

Eli Roth
Eli Roth

Filmmaker Eli Roth has a new entry into the world of horror and “torture porn” due out in theaters this September. Judging by the newly released trailer, The Green Inferno looks to be an uncomfortable gore-fest that will most likely have legs going into the Halloween season. Horror has been, is, and will continue to be one the most successful film genres. These films can be made on relatively small budgets and rarely need a big name attached. As long as you promise to scare the crap out of audiences, and mount an aggressive marketing campaign, you are almost guaranteed to make back your film’s budget in opening weekend. The first Saw film was made for under $2 million dollars and made $18 million it’s opening weekend and spawned 6 sequels and countless imitators. Eli Roth’s first film Cabin Fever was also produced for under $2 million and raked in $8 million it’s first weekend. If you’ve got some talent and a good story, making a horror film is a no-brainer. So is it also any wonder that some filmmakers routinely use Horror films as a way to influence our culture and reinforce certain narratives? While I haven’t seen Roth’s The Green Inferno yet – and at the risk of painting Eli Roth in a light undeserved – judging by the trailer it looks to be no different.

Audiences go into these films knowing they are gonna be half bored for about 15-20 minutes until

The Green Inferno
The Green Inferno

everything goes to hell and the fun & mayhem begins. Whatever discussions or topics the characters happen to be engaging in has no real consequence on the horrific fate they are headed for. This is where filmmakers get to feel good about their work and sneak in their own opinions to mold the culture.

 As depicted in the trailer, the protagonists of the film are headed to South America to assist in helping the locals – and in turn the world – by fighting back against the evil anti-environmental interests of some western conglomerate hell-bent on tearing up the Amazon jungle because… energy, fascism, greed, ‘merica, whatever. What difference does it make? The point is old white men are destroying the Amazon and it’s up to a young white female (and her male suitors) to stop them or else global warming, climate change, weather reassignment… whatever. Of course, since this is a horror film – when the do-gooders do arrive they are eventually pursued, hunted and cooked for breakfast by a local cannibalistic tribe.

Being a Global Warming Apologist, a Climate Change Denier or just someone who cares deeply about Amazon jungle tribes, doesn’t matter when you sit down to watch this film. You just want the gore. If you are a GWA, the reason for the mission simply reinforces the narrative you and your friends hold. If you are a CCD, then you simply shake your head or roll your eyes and just hold out for the splatter fest to commence. If you have no opinion or aren’t familiar with the debate, then you most likely are to assume that the ideology being presented is the obvious position and, who cares I just want blood.

Hopefully human-freedom loving filmmakers out there reading this will recognize the template. When it comes to smash cutting the culture, you must do so in the language of the masses. Your film can’t be about liberty. It has to be about “A” looking for “B”.  A filmmaker with a personal passion for liberty and free-market ideas could basically have the same premise of The Green Inferno, and swap the environmentalists for free-market fanatics. I’d cast Jessica Biel as a young Friedrich Hayek loving grad student from George Mason University who travels to South America to teach local tribes the fundamentals of free-trade and capitalism. When these do-gooders arrive they are eventually pursued, hunted and cooked for breakfast by a local cannibalistic tribe. Can you imagine the effect on some weekend city teenager’s mind who heads to the local multiplex and hears Jessica Biel on screen quoting Friedman while on the road to terror?

Hollywood pioneer Samuel Goldwyn famously said “Pictures were made to entertain; if you want to send a message, call Western Union.” He’s absolutely right. But that doesn’t mean your characters can’t be champions for liberty and human freedom. As long as your female lead is acting out revenge with a machete, torn tank top and sweaty abs, Jessica Biel can quote Friedman all she wants leading up to it.

Matt Edwards

Matt Edwards is a filmmaker in his native Los Angeles. He is an alumnus of the 2011 Taliesin Nexus Filmmakers Workshop, a 2014 Liberty Lab Fellow and the current editor of SCC. Matt is also host of the The Rear View film podcast. Follow @TRVpodcast and @mattchrised on Twitter.