Ben’s review published on Letterboxd:
Cannibal Holocaust is cinematographically impressive, utilizes a unique plot structure, and has an all-time great main theme and fantastic score overall. It also features animal abuse, and the production and treatment of all involved are said to have been extremely unpleasant. I will never know the full scope of everything that went into creating this film (or any film for that matter), so I will attempt to make this review strictly reflect my experience and feelings with the film itself.
I expected it to be a poorly made film from a technical perspective, but it wasn't. I thought there wasn't going to be much food for thought, but there was. I thought that I would hate it, but I didn't. It's a film with plenty of flaws, and I will be the first to admit that I am not the most well-versed in extreme exploitation cinema, but it felt much more impressive than many of the other exploitation films I have come across. It felt like it had a grander vision or more passion put behind it.
The film offers interesting, sometimes effective commentary about artistic sensationalism in entertainment and the exploitation of indigenous people. The film's depiction of the Yanomamo and Shamatari people is inaccurate and wildly exaggerated, although I felt that this was a decision to make the film's stakes feel higher. In other words, director Ruggero Deodato intended for the audience to want the white people (repugnant colonialists) to get their comeuppance for how they treated the indigenous people. I felt like the film succeeded on that level. I sympathized with the indigenous people, and I wasn't particularly upset about what happened to the people who belittled and harmed them. I also felt like it succeeded in showing the great (and disturbing) lengths that people (white people, in particular) will go to exploit others for entertainment.
So, taking the film solely for what is presented on-screen, I was undeniably affected. It surpassed my expectations. I thought it was, at times, genuinely pretty damn good. Unfortunately, it is challenging to look past what went into making this film. It's been 40 years now, so it's almost impossible for any new viewers to watch this without knowing problematic aspects of the production and film itself. Suppose one does consider everything that Deodato put all of the cast through (mainly the indigenous people). In that case, it makes much of the decent messaging regarding sensationalism and the exploitation of indigenous people feel insincere.
Deodato had a good idea and brought it to life with some innovative filmmaking choices, but his behavior behind the scenes (and even after filming) is impossible to disregard completely. If everyone is honest, the lengths he went to make this film the way he did is more than half the reason it has the reputation it does and why people check it out. It's challenging stuff to consume as a viewer and to discuss. There are a lot of aspects of Cannibal Holocaust or the filmmaking process for the film that people could and should denounce, but I can't sit here and act like I didn't find the movie compelling, or honestly, even good. For me, it's a film that is equal parts repulsive as it is influential and important, and I think it is for those reasons that it will probably continue to withstand the test of time.