Punk Music has always had an uneasy relationship with violence, but for all the bravado, safety pins and rioting it’s never been explicitly tied to outright murder. That was until ultra-violent thriller Green Room hit theaters. Following on from his widely praised debut, Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier cranks the drama up to eleven and produces an exhilarating, albeit unsophisticated, punk music inspired take on the familiar home invasion genre.
The story of Green Room pulls inspiration from classic horror and survival thrillers to form a tense hybrid of the two subgenres. Proudly independent punk band The Ain’t Rights find themselves booked to play a potentially profitable gig at a shady venue in the deepest darkest depths of the woods – a place that looks like it might be round the corner from Ash’s gaff in The Evil Dead. Upon arrival, the band members are unnerved to see a host of mean-looking skinheads, characterised by head stomping Doc Martens and right-wing allegiances, loitering around the venue. After playing to the crowed of bruisers – antagonising them with a rendition of The Dead Kennedys “Nazi Punks F**k Off” – the band retires to the green room and walk in on a crime not meant for their eyes. Soon holed up in the green room, the band members begin to fear their paycheck isn’t the only thing they’ll be losing.
Green Room’s alternative draw is that it riffs on punk as a central calling card. Beyond a few notes on the soundtrack along with name drops (The Damned and Misfits), the punk element functions as a superficial ruse. The only real live performance we’re privy to is a muted slow motion mosh that evolves into an absurd pogo ballet. Aesthetically the subcultures give the band, along with its vengeful captors, an identity, but that’s it. In fact, the great myth that anyone who wears Doc Martens, braces and bomber jackets is racist is perpetuated rather than cleverly debunked or undermined. The punk elements aren’t fully realised narratively, but the rock movement’s cultural influence shines in the film’s execution.
Saulnier doesn’t pull punches. He hits hard and makes sure the blood, teeth and phlegm are visible to the recoiling audience. Despite the carefully cultivated tension the climatic bursts of violence strike with searing blunt force trauma. The camera never lulls into fast cuts and Hitchcockian trickery to disguise the violence; instead we’re forced to watch on in horror. Saulnier seems dare us to sit through these gory incidents without flinching. With an ideology like that it would be easy for the film to drift into gratuitous torture porn, yet these scenes are paced well and shock unexpectedly when they do splatter.
Like all good invasion films the camera rarely drifts outside the focal point, in this case the green room. For the most part we suffer the fear of the unknown and the anxiety of our protagonists’ situation. Cleverly though, Saulnier allows the camera to sneak outside the room so we can catch glimpses skinheads plotting. These rare outings are little more than exactly that, meaning they only add to the ominous atmosphere that something awful is lurking behind the exit door. In addition to the taut atmosphere and bludgeoning gore is a welcome touch of black humour that gives the film an enjoyable, campy, B-movie edge.
The plot moves with the pace of a three chord smash, clocking in at a swift 94 minutes, leaving little time to focus on the stranded protagonists. The characters aren’t multi-faceted or full of distinguishable traits, but effectively portray the varying reactions to being dropped in such a pressurised fight-or-flight situation. It’s only really band member Pat (Anton Yelchin) and skinhead turncoat Amber, supplied by a feisty Imogen Poots, who are afforded noteworthy development.
The immediate standout name on the cast is veteran thespian Patrick Stewart who deftly slips into the part of disquietingly megalomaniacal skinhead, Darcy. Despite his star power even Stewart isn’t given preferential treatment. His role is both omnipresent and peripheral in the narrative. He’s an assured addition to the film I can’t help but feel his talents could have been utilised more robustly for a really memorable and villainous performance.
Mirroring its punk roots, Green Room functions as an exhilarating plunge of adrenaline to the heart. It wears its uncompromisingly violent guile on its sleeve and aims to jolt the audience out their comfort zone, a job it does with a guttural oomph. Saulnier never threatens to revolutionise or subvert the invasion thriller as we saw in You’re Next, but he happily executes the well-versed standoff routine expertly. If you’re looking for good old-fashioned thrills, then never mind the bollocks – here’s the Green Room.
Movie Verdict: Win
This review is part of Jonny’s ongoing coverage of the 2015 London Film Festival. For more reviews, click here.