Review: Green Room
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
By Rhys Tarling
Green Room is a simply plotted, yet near flawlessly directed, horror/slasher flick. It would have been easier, and more in vogue, to fashion a postmodern, subvert-your-expectations horror film (akin to Scream or Cabin in the Woods), but writer/director Jeremy Saulnier was up for the far more difficult challenge of making something old fashioned feel brand new. And boy did he succeed and then some. Green Room is a truly grotesque 80 minutes of suspense, jump scares, and ultra-violence.
The 20 or so minutes before the 80 minute freak show is expertly handled as we follow a punk rock band, The Ain’t Rights, on the road, struggling to survive on the meagre coin they earn playing at small dive bars across the Pacific Northwest. Even though we are intellectually aware that this is a genre movie that demands that horrible shit befalls these guys, Saulnier lulls us – with a few economically written scenes – into being actually invested in the lives of The Ain’t Rights. Honestly, I could have happily watched a whole movie about the-little-punk-band-that-could; these scenes have an authentic and lived-in quality that made for fun viewing.
And it makes it that much more stomach churning and awful when the inciting incident occurs – the band accidentally witnessing a murder scene at a White Supremacist skinhead roadhouse club. This forces a tense and gory showdown between The Ain’t Rights and the club’s vicious owner (Patrick Stewart), backed up by his equally depraved crew of Neo-Nazis.
It’s easy to be invested in whether these musicians will live or die because of how ordinary they are. The violence is bloody, of course, but the cruel and miserable manner in how it’s dished out is the most disturbing aspect of it. That’s without even mentioning the sickening arm mutilation scene that I suspect this film will become infamous for. It’s the sort of cinematic horror “high” that the rest of the film chases via hungry pit bulls, machetes, and shotguns, but never quite manages to reach again.
Nevertheless, the actors playing The Ain’t Rights convincingly sell the sheer terror and panic that overwhelms them as their lives go straight to hell.
For Darcy, the club’s owner, this is all just another Tuesday at the office. With an actor of Patrick Stewart’s calibre, it would be tempting to give him big ‘actorly’ scenes, but they wisely opt for mundane menace. You get the sense that he’s a little tired of having to always spell everything out for his crew of lunkheads, and that he had larger criminal ambitions that were unfulfilled. His humanity makes him that much more terrifying than if he were just some cartoon moustache-twirler.
There is some black comedy and some wry jokes that keep this claustrophobic thriller from feeling too oppressive and depressing. In a way, the gallows humour and dry comedy keep Green Room grounded in reality, which that keeps the tension alive. Saulnier knows that at a certain point we would disconnect if the experience was monotonously nauseating, much like we would if a comedy insisted on a big laugh every 10 seconds, or an action movie blowing up something every other minute.
Effective and well-crafted, sadistic and gross, Green Room is likely to turn a lot of people off. But that’s okay because it doesn’t traffic in interesting subtext — it’s simply interested in thrilling you. On those terms, I highly recommend it. If you have the stomach for it.