→ May 18, 2015Green Room was reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival and will hit screens worldwide later in the year.
Punk audiences’ notoriety for brutal mosh pits and spitting at the bands onstage is nothing compared to the homicidal intent inflicted on a struggling young hard rock band by members of their psychotic neo-Nazi gig’s crowd in sledgehammer new siege thriller Green Room. Director Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to 2013’s much-admired slow burn revenge flick Blue Ruin, shares a colour-coded title and screw-tightening intensity; but what’s new here is the pedal-to-the-metal, adrenalized action. There’s also enough gore and guts to best most grindhouse movies. Blue or Green, Saulnier likes to decorate his sets in blood red.
The set-up is bluntly effective, as desperate four-piece the Aint Rights (bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat), drummer Reece (Joe Cole) and lead screamer Tiger (Callam Turner)) reluctantly take a replacement gig in a backwoods Oregon venue run by white supremacists.
In true punk spirit, they begin their set with Dead Kennedys cover ‘Nazi Punks F*** Off’, which, as you’d imagine, goes down a storm with their skinhead audience. But it’s when they inadvertently witness a young girl’s murder in the eponymous hospitality room, that events turn decidedly inhospitable. With the band barricaded inside, along with the girl’s surviving friend Amber (Poots), the bad guys summon their head honcho Darcy (Stewart), a ruthless drug lord who quickly resolves to cover up the scene and eliminate all witnesses to the crime. From then on in, it’s pure early (i.e. great) John Carpenter territory, punks vs. Nazis in what’s effectively Assault on – or technically, by – American History X.
In less assured hands Green Room could become a Z-grade B-movie. The frequency of gruesome practical special effects, as bellies, throats and heads are hacked, ripped out and blown apart, isn’t far off a splatter movie. But, Saulnier’s impeccable filmmaking craft aside, the big difference here between the Aint Rights and always wrong, chop-and-change slasher film teens is the level of character detail and investment. You care about these kids. We first meet them in a cornfield-crashed ramshackle tour bus, which they ingeniously salvage through siphoning fuel from cars. The crack young cast exude the camaraderie of endless hours on the road, as well as a genuine passion for their music. So when they realise the hopelessness of their fate, but try to fight back anyway, the stakes and tension sky rocket.
As with Blue Ruin, Saulnier makes smart use of his setting, with gaffer tape and even microphone feedback providing improvised defences. And for the final touch of class, there’s Patrick Stewart, relishing a rare villainous role, chilling in his implacable, quiet reasoning. Given the film’s claustrophobic intent, it’s understandable that Stewart gradually recedes from view but still disappointing.
In fact, after the relentlessness of what’s gone before, a strangely lax, subdued finale also feels like a missed opportunity, even though it allows Saulnier scope to further develop his themes – how people, and even animals, can be manipulated into extreme ideologies against their better nature. Fortunately, Poots’s Imogen, who gradually emerges as the movie’s MVP, is on hand to brutally dismiss too much introspection. Burdened with a feather mop/mullet hairdo that’s the scariest thing in the film, her impulsive, livewire presence is an unexpectedly cynical delight.