I felt tense and paranoid as I drove home after seeing GREEN ROOM (2015) at a local multiplex. Having watched the movie on a big cinema screen with a powerful sound system certainly played a role. Often down to my last pilaster, I usually economize by watching DVDs or streaming VOD on a much smaller flat screen at home. The $5.50 price of a matinee ticket, added to the positive buzz about Jeremy Saulnier’s dark, brutal, punks-versus-neo-Nazis thriller, overcame my usual thriftiness.
I could attribute my nervous motorist act to almost being run off the road the day before by a crazy driver who came out of nowhere, flying the bird out of his car window. I have to admit, though, that most of my mental condition came from the film. Working again with Macon Blair (who co-produced as well as starred in the movie), writer-director Saulnier one-ups his previous out-of-nowhere achievement, “Blue Ruin” (2013 – read my review). GREEN ROOM stars Patrick Stewart, who plays against type as Darcy Banker, a white supremacist leader masquerading as a club owner. Captain Picard, he ain’t.
I’m still in a weird place as I write this review, hours after the end credits rolled. One thing that comes to mind in explanation is Darcy’s cold, rational mercilessness. Another is the claustrophobic “green room” where a significant part of the film’s intense action takes place. The gory urgency of a slow crescendo of violent deaths by blade, firearm, and attack dog is another factor in my disturbed mental state.
This action ramps up after a short first act that introduces the members of the “Ain’t Rights”. They’re a small group of young punkers from Washington, D.C. who strive hard for old-school authenticity. They even refuse to have a social media presence because it’s not raw and in-your-face like a live show. As a result, they’re living hand-to-mouth in relative obscurity. For example, they’re shown siphoning gas out of parked cars when their van runs out of fuel.
When a gig in Portland falls through at the end of a long and unsuccessful tour, the band snags an unexpected second booking through the local radio host who set up the first performance. It’s at a geographically isolated, run-down club deep in the backwoods of Oregon. They arrive at the third-rate venue (which they find is, in fact, a white supremacist bar) to play for a bunch of slam-dancing skinheads. Although they deliberately antagonize their audience by opening with a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” their set goes well after that. But the situation transforms into something sinister and deadly. Just as they’re about to leave, they witness the results of backstage violence that they weren’t supposed to see.
Trapped in the green room, the band must confront Darcy and his henchmen head on. Darcy will do anything to keep secret what he’s doing behind the scenes at his club. He believes the band will be easy to dispose of without drawing undue attention from law enforcement. But the Ain’t Rights prove themselves much more capable than anyone expected. Turning the tables on their unsuspecting captors, they force a life-or-death showdown with them.
Having played a determined and vengeful anti-hero in “Blue Ruin”, Blair handles a much more ambivalent character in GREEN ROOM. Darcy’s club manager Gabe takes an accountant’s approach to the whole situation. He coordinates logistics while leaving threats and violence to his employees. Often working in the background in the role of devoted Darcy minion, he’s still keeping a mental tally of the situation’s bottom line at all times.
On the other side, Pat (Anton Yelchin), the band’s bass player, is also conflicted. Still, he becomes the de facto leader of the Ain’t Rights during their showdown with Darcy’s thugs. Despite his punk identity, Pat has to develop his capacity for violence on short notice as the bodies start to pile up. Drawing on his experience, he teams up with Amber (Imogen Poots) in a last-ditch, desperate plan to escape.
I’ve already mentioned how the interiors of GREEN ROOM enhanced my emotional reaction to the film. The cramped, scuzzy dimness of Darcy’s club somehow extends to the exterior shots as well. Some of this effect is due to good nighttime cinematography. Credit also goes to skillful editing, as well as effective punctuation with sound effects and the film’s soundtrack. The result is a sense of entrapment in a nightmare world where seemingly familiar places and people have transformed uncannily into their opposites.
The relevance of this vision to present-day social and political conditions does not escape me. Like the real world, the film has its angry, alienated young people, but they have their principles. They express their (often righteous) rage at the world through artistic means. By contrast, their antagonists have no problems shedding blood in the name of bigoted hate.
While there are some surface similarities between the two groups, it’s clear which side stands on the higher moral ground. Still, the members of the Ain’t Rights find themselves forced to use Darcy’s methods against him to survive. I hope that the world is not heading for a similar showdown. In this regard, my gut reaction to GREEN ROOM’s story and themes is not reassuring.
My IMDb Rating: 8 out of 10 stars.