Staff Review: Green Room
Though not his debut feature, Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin (2013) announced his presence as a filmmaker with potency, a director and writer who could confidently move between acts of violent emotion and emotional violence and pepper both with wry humour. It’s a triumph, a grimy story of an ordinary guy, enacting revenge only to receive it return, a story of desperation that’s brutally funny.
There’s a moment in Saulnier’s follow-up Green Room (2015) that reminded me instantly of his preceding film, despite the markedly different scenarios and settings. Punk band ‘The Ain’t Rights’ have discovered that the club they’ve been hired to play for – a gig to make up for an awkward press interview and a much-needed source of cash – is a Neo-Nazi joint. Faced with swastikas and fascist posters in the eponymous room, the band decide to throw caution to the wind and open their set with a The Dead Kennedys cover. I can’t say the title but the song, as if you were in doubt, emphatically lets their audience know exactly what they think of their surroundings. It’s powerful and funny; it’s an ill-advised antagonistic act of defiance from the band, an instinctive act not thought out. In short, Green Room is Blue Ruin amped up to eleven.
The film follows the band post-gig packing up and ready to leave when one innocuous moment results in them coming face-to-face with the violent side of their hosts. Locking themselves in the green room they were leaving, the band talk with bar owner Darcy, his associate Gabe and their crew through the door in an attempt to stop things from turning nasty. It’s no spoiler to say that negotiations fail.
Though its set-up is simple, the tension from Saulnier is sublime, the crude sense of inevitability descending into a thudding sense of despair. The violence when it comes feels necessary, a way for knotted chests to unfurl anxiety. Green Room is a visceral experience, with Saulnier making no bones (sorry) about showing the vivid, brutal reality of such a situation to convey the full horror, all whilst managing to avoid sensationalist exploitation. Indeed, there’s a sort of beauty to the film. The grimy green palette might create a mood but Saulnier’s additional uses of colour – red bootlaces that literally kick things off, for example – operate in the same way as the ambient score used to undercut thrashing bodies. It’s perverse and yet, like the medium at the heart of the film, the aggression becomes a medium to prompt discussion: what would you do in this situation, it asks. Under the murky colouring and jarring sounds, nothing is clear.
And yet, crucially, there’s humour, thanks to smart writing and a wonderful cast unit. Patrick Stewart unnerves in his against-type role as the calm, frightening Darcy, barely breaking sweat as his mellow brogue coats evil words with Shakespearean malevolence. Macon Blair too (Blue Ruin’s lead) excels as the complex Gabe, his expressive face letting the audience move closer to a man they initially try to distance themselves from. However, it is the young cast, the band and additional ‘hostage’ Amber who steal most of the funnies. Poots as the latter is razor-sharp, sarcastically dismissive and reticent, her strengths and vulnerabilities in comparison to band-members Alia Shawkat, Joe Royle and Callum Turner adding another layer of humour. (Shawkat has an outstanding moment with her weapon of choice that had the audience creasing). And then there’s the late Anton Yelchin as Pat. Yelchin was an actor with a diverse back-catalogue, one that specialised in exploring outside of the norm. This makes him a perfect fit for Pat: a quiet but no less hardcore member of the punk outfit, he might seem pretentious at the start – and he stumbles through (brilliantly) unintentionally bleak pep talks, notably involving paintball – but he is no less a hero. He does not back down from a challenge, something that could indeed be said of Yelchin.
Is there a predictability to the plot? To an extent, yes. And perhaps the manner in which events fall out seems contrived. However, both the approach and the descent into Hell makes the film into a remarkable punching-fist of a film. It might make you wince but it’ll get you thinking too.