Review: “Green Room”

Posted by Michael Parsons on May 13, 2016 in , / No Comments

 

Albeit a very different style, DC-Area native writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room” competes with “The Invitation” as the best horror/thriller of the year. While the latter is a subtle, clever twist on the “Ten Little Indians” premise, Saulnier’s follow-up to “Blue Ruin” is more like a grenade going off in an over-crowded sub-genre.  It’s tense, smart, and suspenseful enough to avoid much comparison to others of its kind, realistic and unforgiving enough to forge a  category of its own.

A struggling punk(ish) band on a shoestring budget, so broke that they resort to siphoning gas for their van, land a gig in a small town dive where they net roughly six bucks each. To make amends,  their mohawked host sets them up with a more promising venture that sends them deep in the backwoods of Oregon. What’s the catch? Bigfoot? If only.

It’s a Neo-Nazi bar. And it’s not a party, it’s a movement, proclaims owner/leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) to his minions with a convincing tone of urgency. Darcy has been called upon because  a murder has taken place back stage at his cueball filled venue—a scene that our so-so  musicians unwittingly wander into. Band member Pat (the late Anton Yelchin) and ambiguously intentioned Amber (Imogen Poots), who is witness to her 960friend’s murder, take the lead roles; skinheads and Rottweilers abound, as Darcy’s henchman plot to stage a mass murder and pin it on their visitors. You’d think the doorman/stage manager (“Blue Ruin” star Macon Blair) would have vetted these folks to make sure they were properly racist, or at least had a few cross-burnings on their résumé. But it’s clear when the group cranks out a cover of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” that they don’t quite fit the mold. Slayer’s “War Ensemble” is a nice touch playing in the background.

Immediately trapped in the green room with an oversized bouncer who they hold hostage, the band, dwindling in numbers, must get resourceful, and quick. The first phase plays like a hostage negotiation; these kids are a few steps above your typical horror victims in the IQ department. Nevertheless, shit goes south.

Macon  Blair is a standout as a kind of liaison and Darcy’s right-hand guy. Mark Webber’s brief appearance as the badest-ass skinhead takes a swift turn, followed by a quicker twist… and twist after twist, each resulting with a maimed body. Disturbing in premise, freaky in scenario, and ultra-gory in general, Saulnier’s foray into bloodier, gutsier stuff  doesn’t lose that genuine, haphazard feel of his previous work. And it gels perfectly. Desperation, brains, luck…a boxcutter. And duct tape, if you need to keep your arm from falling off. And a perfect ending. Retribution is sloppy.

Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner play the rest of the band mates, and hats off to casting director Avy Kaufman. Saulnier has crafted a great story, one that plays out with such refreshing and satisfying unpredictability, and though very graphic at times never appears gratuitous.  Even the villains, as immediately and easily hatable as they are (considering their affiliation), have some texture. Patrick Stewart is just plain unexpected—not an inflated kingpin, just a bad guy trying to solve a problem like bad guys do. Send in the dogs, the guns, the machetes. “Green Room” is a survival thriller that continues Saulnier’s climb in my ranks of favorite filmmakers.

—M. Parsons

Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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