Punk Rock Attitude Fuels This Gory Tale Of Survival
DIRECTOR: JEREMY SAULNIER/2016
Green Room is director Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to 2013’s Blue Ruin, which was a festival favorite. Green Room continues the gritty crime approach and firmly plants the film’s setting inside a world that Jeremy inhabited while growing up: the punk rock club scene. For more on Salnier, check out ZekeFilm’s Rob Gabe’s interview with the director here. After the screening I attended, both Jeremy and the film’s star Anton Yelchin (5 to 7, Star Trek Into Darkness) had a Q & A in which Saulnier described some of his early life experiences in this world that prepared him for this film. Besides playing in a band, Saulnier describes a time that he and some friends were shooting a film with some friends in which they were covered in blood near the woods. A “soccer mom” stopped by to see if they were ok, but then merrily went on her way when they yelled back “yes ma’am”. “Nowadays”, he remarked, “you’d have a full S.W.A.T. team called out due to terrorism, etc.
With Green Room, he has merged those two experiences of a band playing a club and a bloody time in the woods to create a very intimate, gritty, and claustrophobic film that will win you over.
The Ain’t Rights (named for Saunier’s band and whose songs are on the soundtrack) are a down on their luck punk rock band living out of the van, siphoning gas to get from town to town on what can loosely be called their tour. When they find their last gig is at a Mexican restaurant, booked by a guy writing an article about them for a college newspaper, they are ready to call it quits. The would-be reporter offers them a real-paying gig at a bar his cousin works at. They jump on the offer and begin the slow trek into the backwoods of Oregon. It is here that the camera lens captures the natural beauty of the terrain with widescreen aerial shots of the miles of forest, the shorelines along the Pacific Ocean, and the lush green hues of trees merging with the sky overhead. This is not to last as the lens begins to tighten the shots as they arrive at the backwoods bar populated with skinheads, Nazi sympathizers, bikers, and the like.
The scope of this film continues to shrink down following their set to the darkened back hallways where, just as they are about to leave, they see something they were meant to see. Pat (Anton Yelchin) had gone back for his phone and actually called the police to report what crime he thinks he sees. This creates a suspicious panic on the part of the bar manager who locks them in the “Green Room” with two of the club’s bouncers while they await the police so that they can “take care of it”.
Saulnier is able to cleverly provide convincing narratives within the story for getting the police out of the picture before he sets the stakes even higher with the arrival of the bar owner, Darcy Banker, played beautifully and cruelly by Patrick Stewart (X-Men, Star Trek: The Next Generation) who is playing so against type, in the best way possible. The scope of the film shrinks down for the remainder of the film to primarily that one green room they are trapped in, and the overall club, creating a very claustrophobic and panic inducing feeling that helps identify with the feeling of the band members as they find themselves tangled in a web that they might not survive.
The frenetic soundtrack of classic punk tunes add to the adrenaline and feelings of horror as Darcy Banker spends the night at the bar unleashing all manner of terror on these young band members, as he tries to scrub clean any trace of what went down. The band, along with a girl named Amber (Imogen Poots-That Awkward Moment, Knight of Cups) who is also trapped in the green room must use everything they know, or that they can find, to survive the night.
While a small-budgeted film, Green Room, is able to deliver in big ways the panic-inducing claustrophobic survival film that it sets out to be.
Jeremy Saulnier is able to top the great David Fincher’s attempt at something similar in 2002’s Panic Room which was a big budgeted film that seemed to fall flat given the star power and director’s pedigree. And with all of the elements of Saulnier’s teenage/early adult experiences merged into the small details of Green Room, it is able to have a feeling of intimacy due to the personal nature of these little details that endear it to the audience and simply make it more fun. That is if you can call a gory, anxiety-riddled plot fun. I know that when all was said and done, that is the word I came away with.
Anton Yelchin is proving himself to be leading man material, especially when you contrast this performance with the softer portrayal in last year’s 5 to 7, and his big-budget tent-pole experience in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek series where he plays Chekov. Patrick Stewart should look at playing more characters that are this opposite his usual fare as he is brilliant on screen in this role. Finally, we come back to the director and writer of Green Room Jeremy Saulnier. Saulnier will be handed the keys to a much larger studio film with this effort. Let’s hope that he is able to keep his personal, indie, punk-rock attitude in future larger studio fare….because it works.
Look for it at The Alamo Drafthouse or other select theaters.