Saturday, April 23, 2016

"Green Room": A Darkly Human Ordeal

Now in Select Theaters, Wide Release on April 29, 2016

Longtime readers may remember a movie called Blue Ruin that would go on to appear on my “Best of 2014” list.  Ever since seeing that quiet masterpiece I have been excitedly curious about what writer-director Jeremy Saulnier would do next, and here we are two years later with Green Room.  So does this new installment into Saulnier’s filmography stack up to the heights of his previous film?  Well, not quite, but it’s a damn close call.

A down-on-their-luck punk band known as The Ain’t Rights is far from home without enough money to pay for gas to get there when a miracle gig seems to open up at a bar whose main attendees appear to be neo-Nazis.  The band plays their gig and are about to leave when they discover a dead body in the green room.  The management of the bar refuse to let them leave the green room, until eventually they try to break in.  The Ain’t Rights must survive the night with no weapons on hand and no help coming.

What really struck me about this film is how Saulnier makes the conscious choice to depict his Nazi villains as empathetic people rather than cartoonishly evil monsters.  Oh, they’re definitely evil and guilty of committing horrible crimes in the name of white supremacy and the preservation of their community, but every one of these characters feel like distinct people, from the fight-dog handler who has a genuine love for his pets, to a lieutenant who nervously has doubts about his role in this massacre, to the soft-spoken calculation of the bar’s owner (Patrick Stewart, who is partially cast for shock value, yet knocks the performance out of the park).  Ironically, this makes The Ain’t Rights comparatively less interesting.  They volley the occasional humorous quips and smart introspective dialogue, but they ultimately serve as audience surrogates for the pain and horror of the situation.  This isn’t huge issue, but it does make the violence against them ultimately less interesting than the villains perpetrating said violence.

And, oh boy, the violence.  This isn’t a gore-fest by any means, but the film is not afraid to show the consequences of violent actions, and it earns its moments of bloodshed with a tense patience that films with similar concepts can’t muster.  If anything, whether for practical or budgetary reasons, the film sometimes shies away from the violence in a way that prevents a clear glimpse at the injuries, which tends to feel like a tease that doesn’t quite deliver fully.  However, these are only a couple instances in a film bountiful with harrowing encounters and cathartic kills.

I may nitpick a bit, but I really did enjoy Green Room.  Though definitely not for those with weak stomachs, it’s a worthy addition to Jeremy Saulnier’s filmography.  Dark, violent, surprisingly funny at moments, and uniquely insightful, this is a movie that shouldn’t be lost to the bowels of indie cinema obscurity.  Go see it wherever you can find a theater playing it.  You won’t be disappointed.

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