Green Room (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

Posted: May 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

“Let him bleed. It’s better for time of death” –Darcy (Patrick Stewart)

 

“Green Room” is an unusually intelligent thriller wherein the characters are all as smart, or smarter, than you would expect them to be given what the film tells you about them. All of the characters behave in realistic and understandable ways, which is unusual enough in a film which straddles entry into the horror genre. While being more of a gory thriller in an old school Peckinpah “Straw Dogs” fashion than an outright horror film, this gem of a movie has vaulted to the top of the heap as the best film of 2016 I have seen so far.

 

The film follows a poor, underground punk band called the Ain’t Rights. They drive from town to town in a van performing small gigs here and there and siphoning gas when they run out of money between venues. The band consists of Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner). After a gig ends up not coming through, their desperation for money to get back home leads them to take a gig at the concert venue/compound of a neo-Nazi group. Playing such venues isn’t too foreign to the band, as hardcore punk rock isn’t as popular as it was in the heyday of the Dead Kennedys and the Sex Pistols, so they’re not too concerned. There’s a brief moment of tension when the band decides to play a cover of the Dead Kennedys “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” to see if violence will erupt.  It doesn’t, aside from a few thrown bottles, and the set continues without incident.

 

As they’re about to leave, being hastily ushered out by Gabe (Macon Blair), the man seemingly managing the concert venue, Sam remembers that she forgot her phone, which she left charging in the “green room” of graphitized walls and torn furniture in which they waited before playing their set. Pat goes to retrieve it, and finds the next band waiting to perform…and a woman’s corpse with a knife in her head while the woman’s friend, Amber (Imogen Poots) is being held back. Now that one of them has seen this, Gabe can’t let them leave, and ushers the Ain’t Rights back into the green room, and the next band out to perform. So then the film leaves us with the band, the corpse, Amber, and a member of the neo-Nazi group, Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) to guard them.

 

This puts Gabe and the neo-Nazi group in an awkward position. There’s a crowded concert venue full of people who could be witnesses if a scene were made. The Ain’t Rights are witnesses who will need to be taken care of. Also, the neo-Nazi group is involved in some other illegal activity which threatens to lead to harm to all of them if the cops were to investigate the random killing done by a band who performed at their venue. Plus, an entire concert venue of people has already seen the Ain’t Rights perform. Simply killing them would place the blame quickly and inevitably on the neo-Nazis. It’s not enough to get rid of the witnesses, they have to be gotten rid of in a way that would not throw suspicion back on their organization.

 

Gabe, realizing he’s in over his head, calls the leader of the group and the owner of the concert venue, Darcy, played with cool-headed, icy evilness by the great Sir Patrick Stewart. Darcy is not the rampant, frothing at the mouth racist that we often see in films which depict neo-Nazi culture (“American History X”, “The Believer”, “Romper Stomper”).  Darcy is an intelligent and collected individual who knows what his problem is and how best to go about solving it. He is matter-of-fact and dispassionate in how he orders and executes what needs to be done. There’s even a funny little moment when he makes an announcement to the concert patrons before sending them home early about a “racial workshop” being held later in the week. He ends his send off by saying “This isn’t a party. It’s a movement”, a phrase has unexpected profundity in this particular election cycle.

 

The band members are not hyper-intelligent people, but they think and act far better and smarter than most protagonists in movies like this. They eventually overpower Big Justin and, at key moments, keep him immobilized using odd wrestling holds. They think over their best moves, even when they have no moves or leverage, before acting. Their attempts to escape (and there are plural attempts) are not hasty and illogical (like the 3rd act of the “Dawn of the Dead” remake attempts), but attempts that are made after all possible precautions have been taken, and with no better options currently available.  At the same time, the neo-Nazis are hindered in some ways (they can’t just burn them out, for a number of reasons, and the band must be disposed of in a certain manner in order to avoid law enforcement coming down on the neo-Nazis later, and the matter includes not using bullets), but they have creative solutions and plans in how to lure the band out and off them, one by one if needed.

 

The violence, when it comes, is gory, brutal, and occasionally shocking. This is a film that does not hold back, and that is refreshing for a film constructed with this artistry and showcasing this much talent in front of the camera. Even more so than the violence, the tension and suspense this film exudes is off the charts.  You know the odds are against the band surviving, but both sides have limitations and are holding different cards. As an audience, we’re never quite sure what the neo-Nazis plans are, though we do get a full view of the band’s, and as such we can be surprised by what works, what doesn’t, and what almost works as the band tries to escape with their lives and the neo-Nazis attempt to lure them out of the green room to kill them.  While the basic plot structure of the film is formulaic to a certain extent, the individual twists and plot specific details are often unpredictable, leaving you feeling like the film could take you almost anywhere.  Since the film feels grounded in reality, it makes the danger feel that much more real.

 

“Green Room” is a superbly masterful film. Tension is actually tense, suspense is actually suspenseful, and violence is actually shocking because, even if the individual band members aren’t all that developed, you can easily put yourself in their place. Because their decisions are understandable and not horror-movie-stupid, when their decision has a negative consequence, you feel like that fate could have befallen you, which makes it hit home that much harder than when you watch an idiot in a slasher movie get killed after splitting up. Combine that with intelligent villains, headed by the wonderfully restrained evil of Stewart’s character, and a visual style that tints the overcast color palette of the pacific northwest with splashes of dark green making things both beautiful and skeevy and the same time, and we have a film that does everything right and not a single thing wrong. “Green Room”, as it exists, is the best possible version of this concept that could have been filmed, which is perhaps the highest compliment I could pay any film. I cannot imagine a single way in which this particular film could have been made any better by changing any part of it. It is as close to a perfect execution of a concept as I am likely to see.

 

The writer/director of this film, Jeremy Saulnier, has directed two films prior to “Green Room”, neither of which I’ve seen but that I’m now supremely interested in viewing. This film shows him as having the skill and adeptness to direct thrillers, dramas, action films, and horror films. I imagine he will remain a very versatile and invaluable talent as his career continues.

 

We are 5 months into 2016, and this is the best film I have seen this year. A.

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