The intensity of Green Room – Jeremy Saulnier’s follow up to the superlative Blue Ruin – raises the oppressiveness of the proceedings to horror movie levels. The taut 95 minute narrative of a desperate punk band playing to neo-Nazi’s and finding themselves witnesses to a violent crime sounds like the premise of 70’s exploitation movies, but plays with the mastery and ragged edges of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 or even Straw Dogs. At the same time, like the latter example, one can’t help but notice the melancholy that punctuates the character’s attitude and actions, from the necessity to syphon petrol out of vehicles to the punctuation of the movie’s perfect final line.
In the the kind of old Midnight Movies Green Room plays towards, the hardcore punk and metal music that the club plays would soundtrack the entire movie. But as The Ain’t Rights play their own music in the movie’s opening act, a rare moment of unity between the punks and the neo-Nazis form, the music dips down to haunting ambience, and Saulnier directs the resulting mosh pit scene as though it were the Elysian Fields in Gladiator.
This happens just after the band deliberately antagonise their extremist with the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”. This scene will help distinguish the punk fans in the movie theatre, but this moment serves as the thematic template of the band’s attitude and of the moment decision making. The character’s somewhat foolish decision making, that results in abrupt violence that is as thrilling as it is grotesque, definitely ties back into Saulnier’s breakout film Blue Ruin, but of a larger scale in size (if not necessarily in emotion).
Despite the exploitation movie setup, the actual political implication of the premise is muted (though the director has talked in interviews about the clash between the left wing politics of much punk music clashing with the reactionary elements that found an outlet in the music’s aggression). One can easily see Swastikas on the walls around the green room, but they are seen through the shallow lens focus of its main characters, and a racial slur is casually dropped only once. The fear comes entirely through character presence, typified by an intense yet surprisingly understated performance by Patrick Stewart as Darcy (although with a bit of an unplaceable accent). Simultaneously their is Macon Blair as Gabe, a skinhead who constantly sees his philosophy and trust fall apart, and whose scenes provide some of the movie’s most darkly comedic moments.
Character and environment is delivered through action. When Darcy mentions True Believers and Red Laces, we trust that the movie will explain the world it has created, and character’s in the punk band have abilities that feel natural that the movie didn’t feel the need to terribly set up in exposition. The band in general are very well established – with the exception of the singer Tiger, but for reasons of plot and the cast are game for the gory events that follow, particularly Anton Yelchin and Alia Shaukat (I hope she uses this as a springboard for more non-comedy things). And then their is Imogen Poots as Amber, who at first glance looks to be the catatonic straggler of the group, but as the events unfold becomes a deeply human badass.
Like in Blue Ruin, Saulnier sets up many cliche thriller tropes to be played around with, but there comes a point where the need to subvert every trope becomes its own kind of predictability; if you know how it goes down in one movie, you know the opposite will happen here. It also drops that movie’s more unique intent and thematics in the pursuit of more setpiece oriented goals. Fortunately, the final moments of Green Room play with both a combination of playfulness and an overall sincerity that can only come from a director who, after only three movies, has shown himself to be a master manipulator.
Green Room has a kind of primal appeal that will only appeal to those that can get on its wavelength, especially with the kind of intense explosions of gore that Eli Roth thinks about when he goes to sleep at night. But unlike Roth, the violence comes with purpose, with clarity, with the same descriptor as the band gives its music, of “time and aggression”. This movie also has dogs. Dogs, punks, Nazis and swords. Can’t go wrong really.