Release: 19th September 2016
Format: BR / DVD
Down-on-their-luck punk rockers The Ain¹t Rights agree to a last-minute gig in a backwoods Oregon roadhouse. The gig soon takes a sinister turn as the band members stumble upon a grisly murder scene and find themselves targeted by a ruthless club owner and his associates, determined to eliminate all witnesses.
There is a moment very early on in Jeremy Saulnier’s genre movie Green Room, when the film’s central four piece, the ‘Ain’t Rights’, are settling down for the night to swig some beers and listen to some thrash punk. But no sooner does the music start; the film immediately shifts to the morning after. Cans and bodies litter the floor, protagonist Pat stumbles to the front door, where someone is frantically knocking. “So you were the first one to fall asleep,” quips the person on the other side. We soon learn that Pat’s face is a frenzied mess of graffiti. This says a lot about Green Room, in that as much as it is set in the world of punk rock, it really isn’t about the scene or the music or even the people who make it work, but rather the vulnerability of life and how it can turn to chaos on a dime.
Green Room shares a healthy DNA with other claustrophobic thrillers such as Straw Dogs, Phone Booth and even a dash of Das Boot. It uses the idea of escape as a terrifying prospect, one where being in the belly of the beast is almost more appealing than passing its jaws on exit. To the Ain’t Rights and tag along Amber, the seemingly endless supply of neo-Nazi hoodlums feels like a zombie horde of machete wielding monsters. Saulnier, however, feels that we as an audience need to transcend the confines of the green room, and witness the inner workings of Grand Wizard / Nazi king / head honcho / lord thug Darcy and his handful of foot soldiers first hand. It’s one of the few missteps in the film to reveal so much so early. At one point, Pat says to Darcy “you seemed so scary at night.” This may have been the case for the band, but not for us as an audience. We witness all of Darcy, and are unable to see him as anything but a mild mannered bully, and that the endless supply of skinheads can actually be counted on two hands. Granted, this does not make them any less threatening, but distance and mystery help build mythology and fear. This is a luxury we are not afforded.
Green Room is a violent film, and when the red, red kroovy begins to flow it really never stops. Saulnier spends so much time building atmosphere and complacency that he wants the brutality to genuinely shock, and it really does. As the band stumble headlong into the situation that they do, it is a jolt of electricity. Saulnier creates a pulse of nauseating disbelief that can only be found in authentic situations when one realises that things have taken a seriously bad turn. It’s a skill he demonstrated beautifully in Blue Ruin, and continues here with aplomb. In fact, this sense of dread – that feeling of “oh crap, I’ve opened Pandora’s box” – could quickly become his calling card. Green Room is like watching a car crash in slow-motion. But for a film so dark and dreary, it looks wonderful and the screenwriting is tight yet happy to indulge in genre awareness. Don’t let that fool you, however, this is not B-movie schlock; Green Room is full of surprises.
It goes without saying that Anton Yelchin’s death was a great tragedy, and it is even more noticeable here as someone who manages to channel the cowardly survivalist charm of Pat. Yelchin’s introverted nebbish ‘hero’ is happy to take on the snivelling role of the group, whilst somehow always maintaining an air of reliability. His partnership with the cast is wonderful. There are particular moments that show a deft hand at balancing the practical sensibility of someone who understands his fate, with the feeble anecdote of an inexperienced child; most notably when he waxes lyrical to Imogen Poots (excellent) about a game of paintball. Patrick Stewart’s Darcy is a tad opaque for my taste. One cannot help but feel that even in his most outlandish fits of rage (see; shoving Macon Blair’s face into a wall), he barely registers a 6 on the creep-o-meter. When someone like Anthony Hopkins managed to make Hannibal Lecter haunting without speaking above a whisper, Stewart seems too fragile, too defensive to be overly menacing. However, that man can definitely orate the crap out of anything thrown at him.
As a last stop shop before full-on Hollywood filmmaking, Green Room is a sensible bet for Saulnier. There is no doubting his noirish sensibilities and his ability to handle tension and violence. He has a good handle on character development and an economical take on plot and pacing. Green Room might not be as well rounded as Blue Ruin, but it has enough kick to keep the skinhead movement out of live bands for a while, at least.
Film Grade: B
The brief Making Of is a flash in the pan of soundbites and blink and you’ll miss them looks into the development of the film. But it would have been nice to see more; especially with the focus on practical effects.
The Director’s Commentary is an exciting glance into Saulnier’s process, with a nice sense of the film’s most biographical elements.
Special Features Grade: C
With Blue Ruin and Green Room under his belt, the next logical step is for Saulnier to tackle the colour red; except Green Room is swimming in it. Blood everywhere. Enough to make you…green…in the gills.