By: AJ Taysom
Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots
Four punk rockers wake up in the middle of a cornfield. Luckily, they are unharmed. Their van probably spun off the road in the middle of the night. Drunk driving? Sleeping at the wheel? Horrible car accident? We don’t know, and truth be told, they probably don’t know either. What matters is they’re safe: they just crashed and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. But they’re resourceful, and they siphon some gas out of a car a couple miles down the road and keep on going. Pat (played by the ever boyish Anton Yelchin) and his friends are a punk band touring the US with little more than some instruments and an old van. They aimlessly travel from venue to venue playing music for people who don’t really care to listen making barely enough money to feed themselves, let alone record the 7’ LP they are saving up for. After what is another fruitless gig at a small-town diner they, catch wind of a gig at a biker club. It pays well, and is sort of out in the middle of nowhere. They pack up the van and go.
The venue turns out to be a bar/safe haven for Neo-Nazis. These aren’t the usual crowds of half interested diner goers but the band plays on anyway; finally a group of people that might just understand their music. They get their promised payment, clear the stage, and are promptly rushed out the door. Before they can head on the road, they end up in the wrong place at the wrong time again. They witnesses a backstage murder committed by one of the skinheads.
This is where the trouble begins. The skinheads don’t seem super content to let the rockers leave. The kids just saw too much, It’s not personal. (Until it is. Then it becomes very personal.) The rockers then make a huge decision: they decide to fight their way out. From this point on, Green Room becomes a different movie. By that, I mean it becomes really, really violent. I was impressed at the control exerted by Saulnier here: I think a lesser director of a genre film would have no doubt rushed straight into the violence. Instead he lets the tension build, and he lets that tension build tension. Every subsequent release of tension is met with another seemingly un-releasable build. It’s a fantastic little formula that works throughout the whole movie. The first build is without a doubt the longest: the band is locked in the green room in a Mexican standoff battle of wills (the weapons come later) that eventually ends in the first real horrific violence of the film. The punks, determined to escape, are then locked into a battle with the skinheads for the remainder of the movie. What plays out is fun, wild, gory, pure grindhouse horror. Saulnier’s dedication to character and genre carry this film all the way through. Any movie can be gory. But can you be sincere and gory at the same time? This is the question simultaneously posed to both the audience and the characters. For the audience, it’s a question of genre: can a horror film show a group of people fall under extremely unfortunate circumstances, yet manage to not be cynical? Are the characters being punished for who they are, or where they are? The distinction is important.
For the characters, it becomes a matter of how to deal with life in different situations. How do you deal with friendship, aspirations, and hope when you are in a punk band? How do you deal with those feelings in life threatening situations? Saulnier introduces some light tongue-in-cheek elements that play with the idea of a sincere, sensitive person also having to fight for their lives. This subtle sense of humor never insults the characters or the audience, and is much appreciated in times of distress.
Green Room is a midnight movie triumph. It has a fantastic build, respect for the genre and audience, and is a masterful mix of violence and suspense.