Thursday, April 14, 2016

Green Room

I've heard great things about Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin since it debuted, so I added it to my Netflix queue and planned on watching it the day before I went to see his follow-up feature, Green Room. But by that point it had been removed from the streaming service, so I went into this film with a little less context than I would have liked. Even without having seen his breakout movie, it's very obvious Saulnier is a rising talent with a knack for managing tone; the way he balanced shocking bloodshed and sustained tension in Green Room made me excited to see what else he has up his sleeve.

Green Room
Writer/Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat

A struggling punk band drives 90 miles to a gig in Oregon, only to discover that it's been cancelled when they arrive. A local radio jockey sets them up with a gig at a nearby venue, but it happens to be a hive for neo-Nazi skinheads. This isn't ideal — and the band's ill-advised cover of an anti-Nazi song to kick off their set doesn't help — but eventually they find a groove and the crowd is digging the show, expressed by Saulnier dropping out the band's instrumentation and the screams of the lead singer and replacing them with an ethereal score as everything slides into luxurious slow motion. But that's the last nice moment of this story, because as the band returns to the green room after their set to retrieve their cell phone before they leave, they stumble upon a murder scene and things go south very quickly.

The film contains some absolutely brutal bursts of violence — two moments in particular drew visceral reactions from me and my fellow audience members — and these sequences were almost Tarantino-esque in the way they seared graphic images onto my brain forever. It's gut-wrenching stuff, but Green Room doesn't rely on gore as its reason for existing. It uses those moments to heighten an already-dire situation. Using films like Assault on Precinct 13 as inspiration, Saulnier has crafted a modern-day siege movie that features intelligent characters making the kinds of decisions you hope you would make if you were ever caught in those circumstances. It's a refreshing approach, especially when a high percentage of other movies in this genre include characters making dumb decisions that serve to push the story along while sacrificing the reality of the moment.

Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, and Mark Webber all do solid work, but Patrick Stewart is the highlight playing against type as an understated but deadly serious villain. He never seems rattled, he makes quick decisions and calmly delivers orders, and it's clear from the moment he appears on camera that he's the kind of guy his followers don't want to disappoint.

I really don't want to say much more about the film than that. Green Room is one of those movies that benefits from low expectations and seeing it without knowing the full scope of craziness that the characters get into. Gorehounds and genre fans alike will find a lot to like with this one, and I'm definitely intrigued about where Saulnier goes from here. If you have a weak stomach and decide to watch this anyway, don't forget to bring a barf bag.

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