Mark Reviews Movies

Green Room


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Macon Blair, Patrick Stewart, Mark Webber, Eric Edelstein, Kai Lennox

MPAA Rating: R (for strong brutal graphic violence, gory images, language and some drug content)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 4/15/16 (limited); 4/22/16 (wider); 4/29/16 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 21, 2016

Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room is a ferocious, relentless thriller about people's desperation to make a living turning into desperation to preserve their lives. A series a seemingly insignificant decisions turn out to be really bad ones. Once the circumstances become perilous, one mistake can have lethal consequences.

We know these characters are capable of making mistakes. We see it throughout the buildup. That's part of the tension, although the majority of it comes from how hopeless this scenario appears to be—and in the relatively mundane way in which it gets to that point in the first place. From one step to the next, it all makes sense.

We can relate to these characters on a fundamental level, even if their development is kept to the basics. We can understand how and sympathize with why they end up in this situation. It is the situation that matters here, and the plotting of Saulnier's screenplay also relies on something fundamental: There are consequences to actions, no matter how inconsequential or significant those actions may seem to be at the moment.

Saulnier's approach is entirely rational in its forward momentum, and it's almost fatalistic in its assurances (and reassurances) that some consequences cannot be avoided—no matter how much preparation one takes or how hard one fights against them. Some things are inevitable.

The plot is simple. A struggling punk rock band wants to make some money. Their "tour" is based out of a van, and the band members take turns finding cars from which to siphon gasoline when their vehicle runs out of it. They rely on an unreliable person to get a gig. That gig falls through, and then the band members err in believing that same person could be reliable when it comes to another gig. That gig goes horribly wrong.

The band members are played by Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner. The group immediately establishes a recognizable rapport—easy and friendly enough to insult each other without it turning bad, their collective resilience succumbing to exhaustion, and their frustration with the situation bordering on becoming frustrated with each other. If things don't turn around in their favor soon, they're going to have to put the tour on permanent hiatus and reconsider what they're doing with their lives.

Through a guy who knows a guy who knows a different guy, the band learns of a club that's looking for talent for a matinee show. Yes, the proprietor, managerial staff, and attendees of the club are all neo-Nazi skinheads, the guy who knows about the place third-hand admits, but the band figures a gig is a gig. If Yelchin's Pat thought playing a cover version of a certain Dead Kennedys song about Nazi punks was a bad idea before, he's definitely rethinking the decision when he returns to the club's green room. There, Pat discovers a young woman with a knife lodged in her head.

From here, the film never lets up in its swelling sense of tension. Pat calls 9-1-1. The police are on their way, but so, too, is Darcy (Patrick Stewart, wisely downplaying evil as a soft-spoken man with a clever mind and ice running through his veins), the club's owner who doesn't want the police investigating a reported stabbing on his property for reasons that, cryptically, have little to do with the crime itself. The band mostly remains trapped in the small room with an armed bouncer (Eric Edelstein), who's tentative to shoot because he's outnumbered. "Negotiations" take place through the locked door, and thankfully for the members of the band, the only person who's willing to let on what these people are capable of is in the room with the band. Her name is Amber (Imogen Poots), a neo-Nazi who's in the process of trying to escape the group.

What unfolds is more or less a battle of wits between the quick-witted prisoners, who have limited resources to employ, and their captors, who possess seemingly unlimited resources but are cautious to use them immediately, lest they ruin the possibility of staging the band members' murders as justifiable, tragic accidents. The prisoners are hesitant to engage in any form of violence, because that's the kind of people they are. The captors, on the other hand, have no problem with it.

With this film, Saulnier shows himself to be in the process of becoming one of our more effective and considerate filmmakers when it comes to violence. There are queasy moments of extreme, graphic bloodletting here—from darkened but still visible dog attacks, to a sudden moment in which a talking head is littered with the buckshot loaded in a shotgun, to the aftereffects of a prolonged attack by machetes on an arm, to an evisceration shown in close-up. They're the gory punctuation marks on the film's considerable tension.

Instead of treating these scenes and single shots as cathartic exclamation marks (either for artless shock or morbid humor, although examples of the latter sometimes feel forced during the film's few breaths of relief), though, Saulnier presents them as ellipses. He allows them to linger just enough for us to take in the horror and to consider the results.

Just as there are consequences to the less-severe actions within the story, there are always repercussions to the story's violent acts. Usually, those results are more violence, although that progression shifts subtly yet significantly as the film reaches its conclusion. Of vital importance in that regard is Gabe (Saulnier regular Macon Blair), Darcy's right-hand man. The character seems irrelevant at first but becomes the impetus for what is as close to a moral of the story as Saulnier is willing to go (Blair's performance—the film's best—is particularly tricky in the way it must—and does—find a through line from the sycophantic aid of a cold-blooded monster to someone deserving of at least a little sympathy).

On the surface, Green Room is a crackling potboiler in which Saulnier confidently employs his minimalist setting for maximum effect. Just below that, though, is a film that deals with the inconsistent beliefs of the senselessness of violence and the at-times necessity for it. The film cannot reconcile those conflicting ideas, but it displays a surprising degree of responsibility in showing how irreconcilable they are.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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