dir: Jeremy Saulnier
As usual, instead of talking about the film I’m meant to be reviewing, I’m going to squander much of the start of the review and much of your patience talking about a completely different film. And I have to do that, or at least I feel like I have to do that, in order to point out what attracted me to the film under review in the first place.
Yes, this review is about Green Room, but the reason why I so desperately sought out Green Room is because I loved this director’s previous flick Blue Ruin ever so much. I loved it down to its gritty, grimy bones. It’s one of the best flicks of its kind that I’ve seen for decades, mostly because I haven’t seen anything like it in decades.
And Green Room, despite having a completely different story, has plenty of what I loved so much about Blue Ruin. There is craft involved here, real craft on the director’s part, and I really, really appreciate it.
There is also the added appeal of a fairly unique story, in that I can’t really remember any other flick’s I’ve seen in the last however many years that has as its protagonists a group of young punks at the mercy of a dastardly but determined group of neo-Nazi skinheads. I mean, in story terms it’s not that different from any group of innocents at the mercy of zombies / aliens / children from council estates / racist cops, but it has a certain specificity that transcends the generic.
I can’t really speak to the details of the current punk / rock scene across the States, but there’s a timeless (ie. relevant to the last forty years) quality to watching a bunch of guys (and girl) in a shitty van barely scraping by on the road as they go out on ‘tour’, doing gigs for pocket change. I ain’t lived that life (like The Ain’t Rights, the band in the movie), but I’ve been to thousands of gigs in shitty venues, and it had that certain sheen of believability that you know feels true.
This is set contemporarily, but most of this (excluding the pervasive existence / use of smartphones) could have happened at any time in the decades following the 1970s.
So in some ways, maybe it’s almost a period piece? I mean, the ultra-right-wing fascists are busy at Trump rallies and such these days, but, really, what have they been doing for all this time? In the American context I can’t even remember the last time I saw them represented in movies. Higher Learning, American History X, The Believer maybe? The skinheads don’t get much of a look-in, do they, the poor sods.
Well, they star here front and centre, as the shitty human beings they are. The band themselves aren’t skinheads at all, but they’re enticed to play at a gig because they’ll get paid actual money, and in largish sums (like in terms of hundreds, instead of $6, which is what they get at the first gig we see them play).
No movie worth its salt would bother having the characters argue over who or what is or isn’t punk in this day and age, or who’s real enough, or hardcore enough. The Ain’t Rights look like they enjoy playing gigs, but also like they’re going to move on to careers in engineering and maybe medicine when they’re finished with this tour. The prospect of actually making money out of it long term seems absurd, and they’re not even really that much into selling merch or even their own recordings.
This is probably why we see them having to siphon petrol in order to keep their shitty van moving.
A lot of this sounds like elaborate window-dressing, and it probably is, because the crux of the flick is that the band play a difficult gig in front of a hostile crowd (which might have been slightly less hostile had they not chosen to play Nazi Punks Fuck Off by The Dead Kennedys as their opening song to a crowd of passionate neo-Nazis), and then become prisoners of these Neanderthals.
It doesn’t happen because of a difference of artistic or moral opinion; it happens because one of the guys running the venue, a manager called Gabe (Macon Blair, who played the central role in Blue Ruin), is trying to be careful. He’s trying to be careful because the Ain’t Rights just saw someone get murdered in the venue’s green room.
What do you do with a bunch of people when they can expose you for the shitty people that you are, or at least even shittier than you already are believed to be, in a movie directed by Jeremy Saulnier? Well, what happens is, people think through the repercussions of their actions or inactions, and the nature of their environments, and all the variables in play (in this case meaning who is where, and what weapons are at their disposal), and they try to think things through to their logical end.
That all might sound like something of a word salad, but there is a meticulousness at play in these movies, which can’t be a coincidence. In some ways the perfect movie for Saulnier to direct next would be some incredibly intricate and elaborate heist flick, because he’s a natural for it, especially when things start going wrong. The characters here, especially the supervillain who is behind everything (Sir Patrick Stewart, I’ll have you know), is a calm and soft spoken genius who tries to think of every eventuality, to the permanent detriment of our heroes.
And the poor band? They got nothing except a great determination to survive. They also have Amber (Imogen Poots) the best friend of the murdered girl, but she’s not afraid and desperate to survive. I mean, Amber wants to survive, but mostly she wants to kill as many of the skinheads as she can in revenge, and, in some scary ways, she’s even more dangerous than the skinheads are.
With the sweet ‘kids’ in the band, it’s hard to say whether we really spent enough time with them to get to know them and care about them. They seem like nice kids, but, when it comes down to it, they’re almost as generic as the kids who end up at a cabin in the woods and start being whittled down one by one. I couldn’t even tell you what their names are, other than the two that stand out to me because I’ve seen them in the most stuff.
As one of Anton Yelchin’s last roles before he died in an unfortunate accident being run over by his own car, well, this one was a doozy for him. Pat is the one in the band who appreciates being in the band the most solely as an ephemeral thing. He loves the moment where they’re playing on stage, and when it’s being listened to by a crowd that’s into it, and beyond that, the rest doesn’t seem to matter. It would be wrong to say he’s their leader, but he does seem to survive far longer than most other people. I wouldn’t say the role requires him to undergo a transformation or anything, from a mild-mannered punk to a killing vengeance machine, but he certainly has to smarten up if he’s going to get out of this alive.
The skinheads are very determined to eradicate them, but they also want to avoid trouble with the cops, which is an artificial constraint that their leader Darcy (Stewart) imposes on his horde, with the intention of making the eventual dead band look like they met their end in some kind of highly elaborate accident. This is the main reason why they don’t just shoot everyone a thousand times in the first few minutes of the “siege”, but then, even if that is the more likely American reality, what with their adoration of guns and killing people for barely any reason, it wouldn’t have made for an interesting flick. It would have been a very short short movie instead.
No, this is far more interesting – having a group of good kids try to survive against monsters in Doc Martens and shaved heads. Some of those Docs even have red laces, which is a level of specificity that surprised me, especially in a flick where a lot of people die in fairly gratuitous ways.
Make no mistake - the violence is very violent, and it’s quite horrifying in sections. People are rendered slabs of meat in horrible ways, and there are only a few people left to shed any tears about it all. Even then, amongst the skinheads there is this sense, especially with some of the more prominent ones, that they’re not just psychopaths or hardened criminals. They’re thoughtful and creative people, too, with feelings and probably families that they care about, and maybe a puppy somewhere. Also, when push comes to shove, they’re happy to butcher people like hogs.
I don’t think the flick makes any grand statement about American politics at all, because the entirety of the purpose that comes across here, the entire point is just survival against tremendous odds and against thoughtful opponents who aren’t opposed to having a trained monster dog rip someone’s face off.
Even the monster dogs have their sympathetic moments. This flick, if you’re a fan of tense, bloody thrillers put together by meticulous artisans, is a treat. The feral performance from Imogen Poots, or the ways the tables keep turning on protagonists and antagonists is just another tremendous cherry on top.
Green Room – you can play whatever you want, but you’re not all going to get to leave.
8 times I wonder how they could afford Sir Lord Patrick Stewart out of 10
“Remember: This isn’t a party, it’s a movement” – thanks DAD, now get back to disposing of the bodies – Green Room.b