It's Summer time in the city and you know what they say: no shirt, no shoes, no problem. Put down your textbooks and pick up a book and lay down next to the pool. You've earned it. The Sun is shining, you've got a cocktail with a cute little umbrella in it, and your only concern is getting ambushed by a barrage of water balloons. Sun's out, fun's out, and what better way to soak in the good vibes than watching a 90 minute nightmare?
Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner
Release Date: April 15, 2016
Run Time: 95 minutes
The Ain't Rights, a broke doing-it-for-the-music punk rock band, drives out of their way to a show. Unbeknownst to them the show has been cancelled and out of desperation they take a gig at a skinhead bar. The set goes about as well as one can go when you open with a cover of Dead Kennedy's "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" for an audience of Neo Nazis with neck tattoos. They get paid, they grab their shit, and they hightail it out of there as fast as possible. All's well that ends well, right? Except one of them forgot their phone. They go back to fetch it and come face to face with a dead body. They're the only witnesses and club owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart) isn't going to let any evidence walk out of his humble Jew hating establishment. What Darcy doesn't realize is that The Ain't Rights aren't naive and aren't going to die without a fight. What happens next is a bloody fight for survival overflowing with dread, death, and devastating violence.
"Now. Whatever you saw or did. Is no longer my concern. But let's be clear. It won't end well."
Jesus fucking Christ. That's what I muttered to myself throughout the movie and long after it ended. Green Room is not a traditional horror movie in any way - most would classify it as a thriller or drama - but it's the most horrifying God damned thing I've seen in some time. It's been a long time since a movie has so effectively sucked me in, gotten me behind the main characters, and then filled me with unmitigated agony as I watched them fight for their lives in an increasingly hopeless and brutal game of cat and mouse. After this emotional carpet bombing it's no wonder I see so many comic book movies. The shiny CGI helps me forget the human misery I just lived through vicariously.
I'm going to get right to it: Green Room is violent. Really, really fucking violent. That doesn't mean there are gallons of fake blood being hosed on the actors, nor does it imply authentic, grotesque, slimy gore effects. Last year's The Green Inferno might have more on screen violence, and there might be more blood in any given scene of the Evil Dead remake than the entirety of Green Room, but neither match the intensity brought on by the swift bursts of extremely graphic and realistic violence. The violence comes without warning and doesn't give you (or the character it's happening to) time to defend yourself. It's sudden, it's brutal, it's visceral, and then it's gone. Your stomach and butthole churn with dread as the band concocts a half baked plan, grabs blunt objects, and creeps towards the door. Your heart pounds as they approach. You're white knuckling your seat without even realizing it, then you're blindsided by a burst of brutality. The only stress relief you get until the credits roll is glimpses of pure savagery. It's a great first date movie.
I was lucky enough to catch this in theaters (thank you Drafthouse, the happiest place on Earth), so when I spent months singing its praises I had a lot (two or three) of people asking me to describe it. I've found the best description is how my friends and I reacted. Between the 3 of us, we've seen hundreds of horror movies. Hell, one of them went with me to The Green Inferno, a tale which is covered in that review. Any time the movie exploded in a burst of horror, we didn't groan. We didn't look away. We didn't even mutter "oh fuck." We laughed. We laughed heartily in disbelief at what was on screen. It came so fast and was so brutal that we couldn't process it and comprehend the proper reaction in time. Green Room is so vicious in points that it kicked in our own defense mechanisms.
Green Room is one of the most tense movie watching experiences I've had in a long time. I last wrote about 10 Cloverfield Lane, a movie I love and also have a series of increasingly elaborate asthma attacks during. Green Room is essentially that, but if every 10 minutes or so John Goodman snapped and sicced trained attack dogs on Mary Elizabeth Winstead. At least that movie had John Gallagher Jr. as comic relief smashing watermelons and talking about how Arabs are the enemy.
What makes Green Room work is how easily you can place yourself in it. Jeremy Saulnier created a lean film that doesn't waste any time putting you in The Aint Right's shoes. He tells you everything you need to know about the band in only a few scenes and you're hoping for them to make it home in one piece before they even make it to the skinhead bar. They're a group of teenagers who are passionate about punk rock and are survivalists at heart, riding a bike miles away to the nearest parking lot to siphon gas so they can get on the road to their next gig. They're dirt broke nobodies; their band name is misspelled on the marquee for God's sake. Music is everything to them, and it's easy to put yourself right there in the band with them. It's not Captain America and Iron Man having a game of slap ass over Bucky, nor is it a film about what would happen if my mother was named Martha. It's a group of kids who only have the music and each other. They didn't do anything to bring about what's coming. It's wrong place at the wrong time. They're not super soldiers fighting a super efficient kill squad or secret agents or Jared Leto with "damaged" tattooed on his face. It's dipshit kids against dipshit skinheads in a rundown bar outside Portland. Both sides are prone to mistakes, and both suffer terribly for them. It's a realistic conflict being handled by actors who come off as genuine people making human decisions - and mistakes. Some movies exist to provide an escape, this one asks how you'd escape.
|Green Room is so good that I haven't even made a joke about her last name being Poots. That should tell you everything.
In a film this intimate and confined to one location, the success or failure falls on the actors. There is not a single weak link in the movie. Each band member has their own distinct personality, they're not just stock punk rock characters. How many other movies would have them being caricatures a la Return of the Living Dead? They're genuine and real, and even the fact that Alia Shawkat is Maebe from Arrested Development isn't enough to take me out of the movie at any point. In anything else I've ever seen her in, I've seen George Michael trying to make out with her to get back at their parents. Here I am completely lost in her character and not once do I hear Ron Howard's voice. Ok, maybe once or twice. The standout is Anton Yelchin, who brings a vulnerability to his performance that fleshes out a humanity in his character surrounded by dehumanizing violence.
|Sam: Maybe we should split up.
Ron Howard voice: They shouldn't.
And then there's Patrick Stewart. Glorious Patrick Stewart. Understated, calm, and calculating. He is ruthless and efficient, realizing immediately that the only way to protect himself is to make sure these kids don't get out. The band has no social media presence whatsoever (purists about it being about the music. you know, those kinds of punks) and nobody in their communal phone. Nobody knows they're there. Nobody will notice when they don't come back. The violence that erupts in Green Room isn't to appease Stewart's character in some way. It's not to punish the band. It's not for any reason other than necessity. He gets no joy out of what he's doing.
The Ain't Rights were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and as unfortunate as it is he has to protect himself. His performance is subdued; never raising his voice or losing his cool. He always seems in complete control of the situation, making the band's attempts to escape seem even more helpless. He orders his men around with the levelheaded confidence of someone who has done this several times before. The utter ruthlessness that comes with his cold, restrained performance is fucking chilling. Early on the band lock themselves in the green room (hey I get it now) before shit truly hits the fan, and for a scene they try to barter their escape with him. His muffled voice coming from the other side of the door calmly explaining just how utterly fucked they are will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
Green Room is the most fun I've ever had ruining my day. There are few things in life I love more than a tight, sub-100 minute genre movie. There is no expanded universe, no prequel comic, no global stakes, no giant purple novelty ketchup lookin ass mutants. It's a confined movie taking place in one building that's well written, well directed, well scored, and well acted. I knew the second I walked out of the theater that I had just seen one of the best movies of the year and something that was going to become a cult phenomenon over time. Green Room is something that will be discovered through the Internet for years to come. It will stand the test of time because it's expertly crafted and authentic. Teenagers will discover this the same way we discovered The Boondock Saints, except they won't be embarrassed when they rewatch this in their 20's. The more I reflect on it, the higher esteem I hold it in. The tension constantly escalates until the credits roll, punctuated by realistic and unglamorous bursts of raw carnage and fantastic performances. Their fear is so palpable I can taste it, and it's a flavor that stayed with me long after the theater lights came back on. If I had to find one flaw - just one - it's that I could have used a proper Patrick Stewart freakout. To be fair though, there aren't many things I can think of that wouldn't be improved by Picard having a Charles Foster Kane freakout because Nazis are having trouble killing kids.
It's not just a recommendation, it's a declaration. This is required viewing and that is not optional. You're going to have to be in the right mindset, but your patience will be rewarded with a film the likes of which we don't get blessed with very often. So grab a loved one, snuggle up under a blanket on the couch, and split a bowl of popcorn. Flip the movie on and remember that when you see a scared teenager armed with a broken light tube stare down a bloodthirsty attack dog, know that deep down whether they live or die, it never would have happened if they had just not gone back for the phone like they were told to.
Have a great Summer! Soak up the sun, catch some waves, and grab some grub at the Shore Shack. Don't waste a glorious second of that sweet August air thinking about Green Room and then jumping out the window. Catch ya later, Shoobie.
- Oh, and just so you know. When it comes to repeat viewings, knowing what's coming doesn't make it any better. There's a reason the doctor tells you to look away when you get a shot. And yes, it's much harder to stomach since Anton Yelchin's tragic passing.