13th Oct2015

LFF 2015: ‘Green Room’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat, Macon Blair, Mark Webber, Joe Cole, Callum Turner | Written and Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

green_room-cannes-film-festival

A struggling punk band decides to play a gig that they really shouldn’t in Green Room, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s blistering follow-up to his 2013 sleeper hit Blue Ruin. The story sees the four-piece (with Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat in central roles) locked in the green room of a white power club on the outskirts of a small town after witnessing a murder scene committed by the headlining act. The venue’s manager Gabe (a measured but welcome return by Blue Ruin‘s Macon Blair) tries to resolve the situation peacefully and without the involvement of the police…or the bar’s owner, the soft-spoken but cold as ice Darcy (Patrick Stewart).

Unfortunately for the band, only the latter is made aware of their inconvenient existence and resolves to end it by whatever brutal means necessary. What follows is an already intense slasher premise given a lick of realism – in its terrified, decidedly unheroic protagonists and the casually perpetrated horrors that they are subjected to – which makes it all the more frightening.

Shortly before this incident sends everyone’s night spiraling into the gutter, we get a chance to know the members of the band. There’s something about their disregard for conventional jobs, domesticity and basic hygiene that’s charming, reflecting both their independent spirit and careless youth. In particular, a scene in which they’re interviewed about their desert island band holds a mirror to our desire for other people to be seen a certain way, with Pat’s hesitance to come up with an answer indicative of those times when we’re not sure who we want to look like.

This preoccupation with appearance is a key theme of Green Room, everyone in the club acting in accordance with their tribal prescriptions with notions of individual morality tossed aside until their world (and most of its inhabitants) have been torn apart. The ‘red laces’, for example – hate-crime-hardened goons who dish out ultra-violence like candy – are almost indistinguishable, having been assimilated into a culture that requires them not to have ideas of their own. This is both a horrifying and comforting fact: the acts they commit without hesitation are unconscionable, but they might be unbearable if we thought they were acting as individuals.

As the group – including another unfortunate witness played by a jaded Imogen Poots – are picked off in increasingly gruesome ways (dogs come into play at one point), they develop plans to fight back that only desperate people would, and the ramshackle nature of these violent efforts is reminiscent of Saulnier’s last film. This, too, is a cruel world that plays near enough by the rules of reality; one that punishes characters foolish enough to let their guard down for even a second. It’s also, perversely, an extraordinary thrill ride. The typically heavy soundtrack gives way at key moments to orchestral strains that lift the characters from the gutter and remind us that, underneath all the hairspray and tattoos and body modification, they’re all people too, ones given equal weight by the camera to either make the most of the short life they have left or just try not to fuck up any more.

Put bluntly, Green Room is a blast of buckshot to the brain: intense, blackly funny and, in its own grotesque way, an affectionate portrait of outsider culture. Not bad for a film that’s essentially Punks vs. Nazis.

Green Room is showing at the BFI London Film Festival, which runs from 7 – 18 October. Click here for more information and tickets.

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