A Fantastic Fest Review
Green Room – Panic at the Venue
United States, 2015
Special Screening, 94 min
Director – Jeremy Saulnier
As a serious film fan and admitted cinefile (fine, nerd), there are fews movies that leave such a strong impression on me. I love extreme cinema, and the weirder and/or more unusual and mind-blowing, the better. I like the rush of something new and shocking, a journey so original that I’m left speechless.
Walking into Green Room, the only thing I really knew was that Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart were both in it. What starts off as an innocent, though slightly scuzzy, road trip film quickly turns into a claustrophobic bloodbath with a single turn of the screw. When the credits rolled and my speech returned, I was left with two words: holy and shit. This is one of those movies that come around once in a decade, leaving legions of film fans raving mad for more.
My brief description won’t do it justice, but here it goes. The punk band Ain’t Rights are on the road. They live in their van, steal gas, talk about punk music, and lovingly rag on each other like great friends do. When their last show ends with no more than a total of twenty dollars, a fan and zine interviewer recommends they play his cousin’s place, a shady venue in rural Oregon. What starts as a quick cash grab at a hardcore skinhead venue turns into a full-on nightmare when one of the Ain’t Rights accidentally witnesses a very fresh murder scene in the green room. Then all hell breaks loose and the band is trapped in the venue, pitted against the onslaught of bloodthirsty skinheads desperate to cover their sloppy crime.
I’m a big fan of director Jeremy Saulnier’s revenge opus, Blue Ruin. It’s smart, well-paced, very violent and fucking dark. It delves into the mind of a helpless character hell bent on avenging his family’s wrongdoing. Saulnier’s fondness for the people who exist on the outskirts of society, the ones perhaps considered dirtbags, if you will, especially speaks to me. It’s rare that films give these types of characters a life beyond the common hillbilly, and it’s refreshing and necessary to see them on the screen.
Green Room’s setup is particularly innocent, making the ensuing violence all the more tension-fueled. The Ain’t Rights are just a bunch of kids holding on to their dream–at all costs–to be the artists they believe they were born to be. These kids are us. They are you and your friends (me circa the 90s–minus the musical talent), going to punk shows, diving into mosh pits, slam dancing, backwoods beer fests and avoiding the scary fucking skinheads that are seemingly all over the place. What makes this movie so real is that it is in fact so real. If you were even remotely involved in a rock music scene, you’ve experienced these very common things, the struggle and the love, and this film brings it so very close to home.
At once smart and exceedingly clever, the convoluted ordeal is finely and expertly teased out as the tension mounts. The script is tight as can be. And the actors deliver on every count. Anton Yelchin stands out as hapless innocent turned fighter, and Imogen Poots truly surprises as an affected and wayward follower now in deep shit. Ali Shawkat, who you’ll know as Maeby from Arrested Development, might have found her breakout role here, and the two English actors playing Americans, Joe Cole and Callum Turner, deliver with memorable ferocity. Patrick Stewart as the skinhead leader deftly embodies his character with menacing ease, proving that the the devil is in fact living in our backyard. Returning with Saulnier is Blue Ruin star, Macon Blair, showing up as the reluctant skinhead and coordinator of this opulent disaster.
Green Room won the Audience Choice Award this year at Fantastic Fest, and with good reason. This movie is a face punching, white knuckle, bad ass chunk of cinema, and from the moment it starts, it slowly wraps its tattooed fingers around the audience’s throat, tightening ever so slightly until suddenly there’s no more air left to breathe.