Green Room. 2016. Directed & Written by Jeremy Saulnier.
Starring Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, David W. Thompson, Mark Webber, Macon Blair, Eric Edelstein, Michael Draper, Andy Copeland, Brent Werzner, Lj Klink, Kasey Brown, Taylor Tunes, & Imogen Poots.
Film Science/Broad Green Pictures.
Rated 14A. 95 minutes.
Jeremy Saulnier blew the majority of us away wildly with his downhome revenge flick Blue Ruin, a story that takes revenge out of the hands of men with particular sets of skills and an almost invincible superheroness before placing it in the hands of regular people, those who aren’t skilled or experienced with weapons, murder, or anything of the like. The whole thing was an exercise in spectacular acting, directing, and writing, all combining to make Saulnier’s talent undeniable.
Going with another contained, small plot, Saulnier now gives us Green Room – the story of a punk band named The Ain’t Rights, consisting of Pat (Anton Yelchin), Reece (Joe Cole), Sam (Alia Shawkat), and Tiger (Callum Turner), who end up trapped in a backwoods music venue after one of them witnesses a horrific killing and at the mercy of a gang of neo-Nazis led by the quietly explosive Darcy (Patrick Stewart). Similar to his previous directorial effort, Saulnier shows us a slice of real life. For all its wild elements, Green Room feels honest. It gives us the world of a punk band and juxtaposes their freedom/fun loving lifestyle with that of some real, serious, scary dudes whose lifestyle is anything but loving, in any way.
But perhaps my favourite element? While the friends in the band, as well as club regular Amber (Imogen Poots), all band together in unity, the supposedly strong group of white nationalists does the opposite and starts crumbling within. Amongst all the suspense and tension, in between the bloody bits of horror and the deepening criminal aspects of the screenplay, there’s a great comment on the nature of these neo-Nazi groups, how they’re only bound together by a collective feeling of being lost and that there’s nothing really keeping them glued. And that their ideology, for some, is a thin veil. Once the blood starts flowing, for some of these guys, the less committed to their ’cause’, all bets are off.
Something I love is that Saulnier is able to capture the life of the band so well. From the gig posters to the slumming on the road to the sticky situations they find themselves in. Even the little jokes amongst the band and their respective personalities all make these characters feel genuine. I’ve played in bands since I was about 13 years old. Never went on a tour, though we did travel a few times throughout the years with a couple of the different ones I was in, both singing and playing guitar, sometimes only one or the other. And the feel of this band is super honest. They remind me of myself, of people I knew while playing, of promoters and fellow musicians and the people out of the community. So when they first step into the world of the neo-Nazi group and their club it’s more than just culture shock, you feel a palpable air of danger. You feel afraid for these people. More than that they have the balls to play a song by the Dead Kennedys with a chorus that goes something like this: “Nazi punks, nazi punks, nazi punks fuck off!” So further than feeling any fear, you also get the idea that these are immature young people colliding with a world of which they have no real clue. Much like many of us would say these white nationalist types are a bunch of idiots, likely inbred and whatever else, this band doesn’t respect the fact these are serious, dangerous people. The writing of the characters and the setup of the burgeoning intensity of what they’re about to experience is what makes the film so strong immediately. Within twenty minutes you’re not simply interested in the characters, their band, as well as the creepy neo-Nazis circling around them, you also land right in the boiling pot and sitting in the hot seat with our reluctant protagonists.
A little bit I loved – when the band and Amber decide to try fighting their way out, before they do everyone recounts their truthful Desert Island Band: Reece says Prince, Sam says Simon & Garfunkel, Tiger sticks with The Misfits (good lad), Pat still can’t answer, and Amber joins in with Madonna and Slayer. Awesome moment that was so well placed, so well written. An amazing, brief scene.
All the way through I enjoyed the cinematography, courtesy of Sean Porter. In the early scenes there are some moments of beautiful Malick-like nature shots, particularly when the band is pushing their van out of the field into which it ploughed the night before. But all the interior stuff is great, too. When we move into the various locations the band moves through on their journey there’s a dark and edgy quality that makes you feel as if you’re gradually being sucked into oblivion. Inside the white nationalist punk club there’s a fog-like, hazy atmosphere that you can almost smell and touch. It makes you feel as if you’ve walked right into hell. For instance, as The Ain’t Rights play away, rocking out, there’s a horde of white supremacists moshing, their symbols and insignia waving around like banners in the crowd, and it’s a simultaneously gorgeous and eerie sight to those few moments.
And then there’s the violence. Oh boy. I’ve seen some nasty, gory shit in my time; 4,200 films deep, about 1/3 of those horror. But Green Room‘s brand of violent, criminal horror is exciting because there are two elements at play: the band (though punks they represent pacifists who are only inclined to defend themselves against violence) v. the white supremacists (these guys use violence for fun and to subdue those they feel are threats or obviously are different than them). So what I find great is that the band, these mostly peaceful people who just want to rage onstage with their music, is put in a position where they’re forced to go a violent route in order to save themselves, and literally to save their lives. Instead of some kind of revenge-style thriller where we see a bunch of people do violence against neo-Nazis, Saulnier allows us to indulge in the revenge movie tropes without having this sort of preachy element where he’s saying “Look how these white people are better than the hateful ones” and effectively allows us to indulge in that scenario without pandering too much to the saviour in us moviegoers. Furthermore, it’s funny I’ve seen a review state that while the movie has good backwoods horror elements that are actually well executed, there’s a lack of human element within the screenplay. I found exactly the opposite. Quickly, we almost feel like the 5th member of The Ain’t Rights, and once that first act of violence (we actually only see the aftermath of that one) comes down there’s a terrible sense of watching people we care for already in a terrifying situation.
Some bloody highlights: Pat gets his arm torn apart while trying to hold the door closed in the greem room, looking like an actual wound from an ER photo; the arm break on Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) looks so nastily real before Amber opens him up like a deer, also awfully realistic. Later when the band starts escaping and they’re each subjected to different methods of violence, there are a number of gritty scenes that come down and shock you; not because of the blood or gore, but rather these moments are cloaked in darkness, the ugliness concealed just beneath. In their distinct ways every scene containing bloody action comes off with an awe all its own.
My favourite? When Daniel (Mark Webber) is behind the bar, that entire sequence is absolute insanity – that’s all I’ll say, for those who’ve not yet seen the film.
Green Room is a fantastic dose of crime-thriller mixed with backwoods horror, on top of that using minimal locations – mainly the punk club – to bring maximum suspense and tension to the forefront. There’s a great screenplay, first and foremost, which Saulnier crafts wonderfully. Though the band is the focus of everything, the disintegration of the white supremacists is key to the plot. Because, as I said in the intro, The Ain’t Rights and Amber, and Daniel later, come together as one, a unified whole; without any extremist ideology backing them, but only the desire to survive against extremists. On the opposite side are the white nationalists, led by Darcy, who are dishonest with one another, hiding secrets and true intention, and eventually they come to a point where their own ranks disintegrate because of their lack of unity. So, yes, this is an enjoyable piece of nasty horror that plays well in the world of genre film, but it also has things to say, it isn’t all about extreme violence and the ugly world of neo-Nazis.
Under everything, Green Room is a taut and exciting thriller that feels different than most of the other similar films out there. Saulnier proves once again he’s able to take something familiar, turn it into his own vision, and keep us interested in the underbelly of American culture – that one where bloodshed, violence, murder plays out in forgotten places, where human life is disposable, where the will to survive is only trumped by the gruesome passion to kill. Moreover, Saulnier exposes the brotherhood of white supremacy, not by making fun or mocking. He opens up the idea of white nationalism and its idea of brotherhood and unity by showing how easily it falls apart under pressure; where you’re only as good as your last murder, otherwise you’re only taking up space. Up against a group of punk rockers inexperienced in the ways of violence, these neo-Nazis discover music keeps people together far better than any right-wing (or ultra-left) ideology ever could. At the same time, those same rockers ultimately must become just like those violent extremists in order to make it out alive.