Green Room: 4 out of 5
Of all the versus battles we will be seeing this year, I’m not sure punk rockers vs. white supremacists was one I would have expected. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier follows up his fantastic thriller Blue Ruin with Green Room, another pitch black look at humans pushed to their limits when it comes to taking on a despicable force. The results are rough, but handled in a way that is as technically sharp as the box cutter blades and machetes put to use in this ultra-violent suspense tale.
This tale revolves around the fateful journey of a punk rock band known as The Ain’t Rights. Singer Tiger (Callum Turner), bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat) and drummer Reece (Jake Cole) are headed to a quick replacement gig so they can make enough money to get home. Unfortunately this gig is located in a dingy skinhead bar outside of Portland, Oregon. Things only get worse when the band stumble upon a terrible event that took place backstage in the green room.
To get into the violence depicted in this film right away, it is important to note that it follows a sense of logic and never comes off as gratuitous. Not to promote one genre over another, but Green Room is very much a thriller and not a horror. The film aspires to push you to the edge of your seat in terms of suspense and merely delivers on where scenes are forced to ultimately go. But then I guess you have to wonder why the camera needs to be placed so close to the carnage.
Saulnier indeed wants to go for a visceral punch when it comes to seeing both the villains and the innocents getting hurt or worse, but I would argue it is never done in excess. Real skill comes from the use of sound design amidst this sort of chaos to help play tricks on what you actually see. Of course, there are some gruesome sights as well, but the film is much more powerful for the commanding performances on display.
Patrick Stewart’s presence as Darcy Banker, owner of the bar and the patriarchal figure for these white supremacists, is key. While it may teeter on stunt casting, it is wholly effective in hearing someone with a commanding presence show how detail-oriented the skinheads in charge are when it comes to covering up heinous activities. There are even shades to Stewart’s performance that allow him to show a leaning more towards what makes for good business, as opposed to whatever ugly views his followers have.
Darcy is being put to the test on this deadly night, however, as The Ain’t Rights are not going down without a fight. The film wisely makes the band as human as possible, with action being put off as much as it can. Rather than quickly turning into a cat-and-mouse chase film constantly on the move, once certain discoveries are made, we are made to wait with the band. The hope is that some form of authority arrives to get them off the hook for baring witness to something at the exact wrong time.
It is not that Saulnier is toying with the audience. Instead, the film puts a lot of care into how to ground a stylish thriller in a plausible reality. Many films may be trying to tap into something close to that, especially when it comes to ones mainly featuring a single location, but Green Room seems to take many steps to have us just as familiar with the practices of how a cover up should play out, in addition to seeing our heroes fight back.
Given that Blue Ruin spoke to the rarely seen exploits of a hero dealing with the aftermath of his revenge, it makes sense to find a similar approach being applied here. There are also bonus points earned for having Blue Ruin’s Macon Blair show up as the most put-upon of the skinheads. Come to think of it, for as evil as many of these individuals are, the sense of loyalty and odd instances of heart found in some of these people provides another neat layer here. There is also some incredibly dark humor, just to be sure you are not wallowing in shocking moments throughout.
Getting back to The Ain’t Rights, I certainly would not want to be in their hole-ridden shoes. This scrappy band has to put up with a lot and they at least have some good on-the-spot ideas for how to handle themselves. Yelchin is the top-billed actor, but you may be surprised by what level of confidence he possesses here. One cast member who has nothing but attitude is Imogen Poots, who is on the same side as the band, but far more pragmatic when the time calls for it.
The proceedings end up playing out more straightforward than one could expect for a film rooted in 70s grittiness. This does not stop Green Room from being a story that delivers on its intensity and backs it up with a strong cast. The continued show of cinematic prowess from Saulnier is also welcome. I hope I’ve been vague enough in what takes place, but aside from highlighting the presence of violence, there is a stunning film here that builds tension well and thrashes your senses about, as you watch how everything is resolved. That sounds pretty punk rock to me.