In Review: Green Room

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You may not have heard of Jeremy Saulnier. But trust me, you’re going to hear amazing things about this guy over the next few years. Take my word for it: this director is very special. Having only seen one piece of his previous work prior to seeing Green Room (2013’s visceral, slow-burning revenge thriller Blue Ruin), I naturally had high expectations for his new movie, and was not at all disappointed in Saulnier’s third big screen outing, part of his so-called ‘Inept Protagonist Trilogy’.

Green Room focuses our attention on the underground punk band, The Ain’t Rights, and their ‘tour’, which seems to comprise exclusively of siphoning gasoline from cars, and occasionally playing a gig at, say, a Mexican restaurant. Eventually, though, they land a well-paying gig in Portland, Oregon, in a neo-Nazi bar deep in the woods. What begins as a fuck-you to the far-right occupants (including a blistering cover version of the Dead Kennedys track, ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’) culminates in a woman’s body being found backstage, a surprisingly restrained performance by Patrick Stewart as the Nazi leader, and one of the bloodiest fights for survival that I have ever seen.

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This is an absolutely flawless piece of cinema, working [] on the levels of both horror and drama. The tension is heightened to the point where you’re afraid of what’s coming, but are simultaneously captivated by what could possibly transpire the next time the Ain’t Rights leave the green room. Each character is written and fleshed out as a well-rounded, believable individual. All, except the neo-Nazis, who understandably come across as single-minded, almost Borg-like, eager to stamp out any problem that arises that could threaten their Aryan ideals.

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For a small movie ($5 million budget), with a small cast (16 actors in total), it certainly seems to be the little movie that could. The cast, featuring the aforementioned Stewart, fellow Star Trek alumnus Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Saulnier regular Macon Blair, is among the strongest and most authentic I’ve seen in some time. The visuals are recognisably similar to Kubrick in places, with some Shining-style cinematography at play early on in the movie, followed by visceral bloodletting and unquenchable anger that could call back to A Clockwork Orange. The gory violence is enough to rival Tarantino in its unrelenting carnage, but luckily it manages to avoid looking cartoonish. The plot, once thickened upon Yelchin’s discovery of the dead body, never lets up, even for one moment. Even with the occasional smattering of light-hearted banter about who the band members’ desert island band would be, the tension continues to build to an intense level. The soundtrack, when paired with the poetic slow-motion moshpit shots and shocking plot twists and turns, is timed to perfection.

But the single element that distinguishes this movie from its horror movie predecessors – both pedestrian and revolutionary – is the realisation that with others before it, the threat presented to the protagonist(s) usually lacked credibility in some way or another, either through being scientifically implausible (zombies, giant snakes, a supernatural force that takes over a dead person’s Skype account) or being somewhat believable but still that bit removed from reality (serial killers, aliens, voodoo). What really sets Green Room apart from the others is the recognition in the viewer that the threat posed to the Ain’t Rights is far too close to home, that it is a serious threat which is, in fact, very very real, and that is a very terrifying thing to know and potentially recognise when getting closer to the movie’s climax.

If this is the best movie that 2016 has to offer, I’ll happily take it.

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