Jeremy Saulnier’s third film Green Room finds a punk-metal band fighting for their lives after a gig turns sour. It’s a taut, terrifying thrill-ride…
Making it big in the music industry is hard but surely not this hard. For struggling punk-metal band the Ain’t Rights, that first major record deal just got pushed a little further away. They’ve stumbled into a gig hosted by a gang of Neo-Nazi skinheads with an aversion to liberal protest songs and a penchant for wielding sharp objects. Suddenly the Ain’t Rights’ hand-to-mouth existence looks appealing, mostly because they’ve still got, at this point, their hands and mouths to work with. By the time the evening is over, there’s no telling what will be left of them.
And that’s the brilliance of Green Room’s very simple set up: unpredictability. Certainly, this is less about performance, more about structure, as director Jeremy Saulnier tightens the noose. It’s compact, in physical scale and dramatic construction, as the band try to barter, beg and bludgeon their way out of this mess. But they’re witnesses to a murder and the perpetrators want their silence and will seemingly stop at nothing to attain it.
Exhibiting a mixture of suspense thriller and slasher horror, Saulnier’s third feature is his most assured. Despite nods to the stripped back narration of Walter Hill and the ensemble-in-peril seen throughout John Carpenter’s work, the writer-director finds his own immersive niche, not least in the depiction of unsavoury characters subverting expectation.
The Ain’t Rights, for instance, a self-serving group of hedonists who steal fuel to make their cross-country tours possible embody that self-aware narcissism you get from rock bands with a chip on their shoulder. Yet, these three men and one woman become survivors we are willing and eager to get behind. They aren’t straightforwardly sympathetic which makes for an intriguing dynamic when the battle lines are drawn.
And what a “battle” it is! I can’t hide my own admiration for films that limit their scale to a single room or a single night or day. When they achieve both, and do it well, it’s often an exhilarating dramatic journey where character and plot develop at a more organic level, the audience’s time shared by the characters and vice-versa. John Landis’ Into The Night, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours and Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men are three films that exhibit this narrative approach to perfection.
Green Room, while perhaps lacking the nuances in characterisation of the aforementioned films, does however riff on the “it-happened-in-one-night” scenario. The approach is particularly effective when combined with this type of stage; its single-room scale energising a foreboding sense of claustrophobia as the heightening stakes, and Saulnier’s relentless pace, get the adrenaline pumping.
The film is less effective when the shackles of isolation and imprisonment are removed but it maintains its grip as the power balance shifts between the antagonised and the aggressor. Certainly, Sir Patrick Stewart’s air of beguiling cool as the leader of the skinhead gang, makes him a memorable foe. His clinical blueprint for disposing of the band is as unsettling as his status as demagogue to a fervent group of Doc Martin-wearing Neo-Nazi killers. There’s very little to discern between the men trying to slash the Ain’t Rights to pieces and the fighting dogs sent in to lead the offensive. Away from Stewart’s Fuher, perhaps Saulnier relies too heavily on a prosaic villain, each henchman an impersonal representation of thuggery; the ankle length blue jeans and shaved heads the brand aesthetic of simple, indoctrinated hate. But it’s all part of the oppressive force, the lingering whiff of Nazism and the far right muddying the playing field and making it all the more unsettling.
Written by Dan Stephens
Top 10 Films reviewed Green Room on Blu-ray courtesy of Altitude Film Entertainment which released the film on DVD and Blu-ray September 19, 2016.