Violent, uneasy and excellently executed, Green Room opens today in UK cinemas…
The Ain’t Rights are a hardcore punk group with a slight tendency towards hipster dilettantism, but their hearts are in the right place and the Fugazi sticker on the back of their van signifies that they’re for real. Touring the country, refusing to market themselves online for reasons of purism (read: dilettantism), their shows are so little-attended that they end up crapping out in Portland. They’ve already only made it this far by siphoning gasoline. During an interview with an earnest independent radio host, however, the host suggests that his cousin, a promoter, may be able to scare them up a gig at his own venue in the middle of the Oregon woods. He refers to it as a skinhead venue, euphemistically neglecting to observe the distinction between classic skinheads (a British working-class culture with strong ties to Afro-Caribbean immigrant culture and left-wing politics) and their Neo-Nazi offshoot. Surprise, these highly suspect skinheads with their secret wilderness venue turn out to be the Neo-Nazi sort, and tensions immediately run high between the band name being corrected into “The Aren’t Rights” on the sign and the inflammatory opening song choice of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”. It only gets worse when, grabbing a left-behind mobile from the green room on their way out, the band discover a murder. Well, now the Neo-Nazis can’t let them leave, can they? The band find themselves locked in the green room with heavy Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) and reluctant Nazi Amber (Imogen Poots), who proves herself to be an unexpectedly valuable ally as the band struggle to escape the siege in which they find themselves.
Green Room follows writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s previous effort, 2013’s critically acclaimed Blue Ruin, and should cement his position as a serious contender. That isn’t to say that this picture lives up to that one, because there is a sense that it lacks some of the depth it could have had; it isn’t about much beyond punks fighting Nazis. But in terms of tightly controlled energy, intense violence and realistic performances, it is at least its equal.
The punk band itself – Pat, Sam, Reece and Tiger, played respectively by Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner – is composed entirely of promising up-and-comers; sadly, however, the film is so single-minded in pitching its likeable leads into Hell that we are given little time to get to delineate each from the others. It’s all sweaty stand-offs, unspoken moral quandaries, and the fully expected filth and fury. Sir Patrick Stewart shows up half an hour or so in as the club’s owner, which would be quite a surprise if he weren’t all over the marketing. A dirty Neo-Nazi bastard, an underhanded cheat who covers up murder and runs an underground drug ring, he should be quite a departure from the Jean-Luc Picards and Charles Xaviers who made Stewart’s name; however, the evidence here would suggest that unlike, say, Sir Ben Kingsley, who runs the gamut from Gandhi to Sexy Beast, he’s unwilling to really get into the necessary dark place, and thus the way his character comes off is not dissimilar from Picard or Xavier, on one of the occasions they were mind-controlled into villainy. The best actor here is a glum, yet forceful Imogen Poots, who also happens to have been given the deepest character in the story. But in general, the script doesn’t do badly; punks tend to be a stock stereotype in Hollywood, and yet the experiences, and the cultural touchstones, of these characters will be recognisable to anyone familiar with the scene. Even the Neo-Nazis aren’t cardboard cutouts, but the sort of directionless, angry youths who are, on the one hand, exactly the sort of people drawn to white nationalist ideology, and on the other are still people, with fears, and loyalties and, in one case, even a devotion to his dogs, vicious fighting dogs though they may be. So, even in scenes in which the brutal violence that is constantly threatened flares up, that violence is not a spectacle of guilt-free celebration, but rather something horrifying, and something psychologically damaging to its perpetrators, on either side.
So, by the time the credits roll, we have the feeling that what we’ve been through is an ordeal of survival, exhilarating in places but far more often gruelling, frightening or deeply upsetting. The picture is a well-executed, technically perfect horror experience for punks – and non-punks too – worldwide, and the only remaining question is: after Blue Ruin and Green Room, what’s next for Jeremy Saulnier? Could it be Purple Rain? Hold on, that’s been done. Yellow Submarine? Wait, no, Red Dawn. Er….
Green Room opens today in UK cinemas, are you going to be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!