Green Room. Jeremy Saulnier (Dir).
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Macon Blair, Patrick Stewart.
Released May 13th 2016, 95 mins, Rated R/18.
ANARCHY IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST!
Green Room; the third feature from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier (Murder Party, Blue Ruin) is a shockingly violent and suspenseful siege thriller that echoes genre classics like Assault On Precinct 13 and Straw Dogs by way of Deliverance. A punk rock twist on the trope of suburban outsiders being pushed beyond breaking point by local nutters as fictional Arlington rockers The Ain’t Rights square off against a group of neo-Nazi skinheads.
The setup for this veritable brutality buffet establishes the unlikely heroes as a struggling punk outfit at the end of an unsuccessful (one assumes – judging by what we see of it) tour. We are introduced to The Ain’t Rights in a short sequence that tells you their whole story. Stranded in a cornfield with neither fuel nor finance, cycling to siphon petrol, playing to a disinterested crowd and crashing on floors and couches. So when they are offered a last minute slot on a bill by local college radio host Tad (“legit” by virtue of his vinyl collection – hair jizz notwithstanding) they seize the chance to finish up the road trip with one solid gig. The catch of course being that the venue is a clubhouse for an ultra right wing (“technically, extreme left”) ‘boots and braces’ crowd buried in the woods outside Portland, Oregon.
From the moment the band arrives the sense of unease hangs thick in the air and the tension steadily rises. This is not a friendly place to be and they don’t help things when they open their set with a brass balls cover of Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off.” Although for the record, this is where they firmly won me over. Before long the set is over and remarkably, the crowd is onside. The band is paid and honestly, I was silently willing them to just get in the van and go home. But alas, reality ensues and they end up trapped inside the eponymous backstage area. The latter half of Green Room is a breathless exercise in answering the question; ‘how can things get any worse?’ as each opposing force plans, attacks and retreats desperately trying to gain the upper hand.
Green Room has a wonderfully sticky, grimy aesthetic and everything from the graffiti plastered walls to the sickeningly dingy lighting adds to the oppressive feeling of claustrophobia throughout. The club itself looks and feels achingly authentic for anyone who has ever had a similar pleasure and you will swear that you can almost smell it through the screen. In contrast to the suffocating indoor sequences, the film is peppered with some absolutely gorgeous aerial shots of the surrounding woodlands and scenery from the great state of Oregon.
The cast collectively does a fantastic job with bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin – Star Trek Into Darkness, Odd Thomas) and club patron Amber (Imogen Poots – Need For Speed) as particular stand outs. Both are supported with great performances from Callum Turner, Joe Cole and Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat as Yelchin’s band mates. On the other side though was perhaps my favourite performance in the film. Prior to this I had never heard of Macon Blair, who plays Gabe. The somehow oddly sympathetic lackey to villain-in-chief Darcy. He delivers a quietly understated performance alongside some of the film’s more established names, putting a human face on the Nazi contingent and providing some of Green Room’s best darkly comic moments. Some cursory research tells that he has been a mainstay of Saulnier’s output to date and I sincerely hope that continues to be the case.
Finally we have the inimitable Sir Patrick Stewart as resident Big Bad, Darcy Banker. As you would expect Stewart brings a formidable presence to bear on the film and a suitably Shakespearean weight to his character. I can’t recall the exact words but his delivery of a line to the effect of “if we are too late…then all is for nought” made it impossible to keep a smile off my face. I suspect that Stewart had a ball embracing such a villainous character and if you are most familiar with his fatherly portrayals of Captain Picard and Professor Xavier, then you’re in for a bit of a treat. Stewart plays it with cool and subtle menace much closer to say, Breaking Bad’s excellent Gustavo Fring than some exaggerated portrait of malevolence and things are all the better for it. Unfortunately, with the events of the film being what they are and the available screen time we aren’t afforded much opportunity to get under Darcy’s skin and explore any deeper motivations to his character. He simply is what he is and as club owner/gang leader he is there to personally oversee the plan. While this does make the character feel slightly under utilised it’s also fair to say that it pretty clearly was never Saulnier’s intention to drag the mindset of this movement under the microscope. These broad strokes work perfectly in establishing our feelings towards the bad guys here. Despite Darcy’s affably evil persona (he has a warm almost grandpa like relationship to most of his crew) there is never any danger of him winning us to his side as with so many popular and charismatic villains. He is a Nazi. Nazis are bastards. They are a conveniently easy thing for the audience to despise.
The violence in Green Room is brutal, gory, frequent and in a few instances genuinely shocking. One scene in particular sent a wave of audible gasping and vocal wincing through the audience that I was a part of. To be clear, though, the film isn’t just relentless bloodshed and stark bleakness of tone. There are islands of rest in the river of red and some cynical reactions from the characters to their situation, as well as some sharp deadpan snark, provide a steady and welcome pulse of blackly comic beats underpinning the carnage. I particularly enjoyed a running joke concerning “desert island bands” and a fantastically stealthy sight gag (which I really, really hope was intentional) delivered via the band’s name. Elsewhere, a conversation involving a paintball metaphor seemed to be echoing some of my own thoughts with regards to extreme violence in entertainment. Namely, just how far can it really go before we have to stop taking it so seriously? Before there’s just too much paint to do anything but laugh? Or then again, maybe I just ain’t right…
Green Room is a smart and stylish genre piece from formidable writer/director talent Jeremy Saulnier. Unapologetic in its brutal display of violence with a vein of black humour throughout. Not for the weak of stomach, with practical gore and makeup effects being used to great visceral effect and recalling an era of under the counter ‘video nasties’.
4 / 5