Review, “Green Room” — *** stars (out of ****)
Released April 15, 2016 (expanding nationwide today)
Written and Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Cinematography by Sean Porter
Starring Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat
Running Time: 94 minutes
Box Office (after its first two weekends, in limited release): $396,886
“Blue Ruin” helmer Sean Porter’s latest backwoods crime thriller is “Green Room” — a taut, nasty little movie that doesn’t reward thinking too hard. The set-up is quite simple: somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, a hardcore punk outfit named The Ain’t Rights gets booked for a very, very unfortunate concert. Following a series of unfortunate events, the band — comprised of self-righteous bassis, Pat (Anton Yelchin), stoic guitarist Sam (Maeby Bluth), hothead MMA-aficionado drummer Reece (Joe Cole) and shit-stirring vocalist Tiger (Callum Turner) — finds itself holed up in the titular green room, fending off hordes of machete-wielding skinhead psychopaths with the help of double-agent Nazi scene girl Amber (Imogen Poots).
Sounds like fun grind-house fare straight out of 1978, sort of “Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS” but with less gratuitous sex? WELL IT’S NOT. Outside of a well-placed fart joke and some weak gallows humor, this thing is deadly serious, even during the first act’s calm before the storm. Okay, well, if the flick’s going to be all stone-faced about the proceedings, it would follow that “Green Room” has Something Important To Say, right? WRONG AGAIN. It really is just a hostage crisis movie painted in hyperbolic strokes, and has nary a big-picture thought in its pretty little head, sporting some loosely constructed hero characters and one really, really cool bad guy (Captain Jean-Luc Picard, straining his darnedest to give us a flat American-ish accent). A further quibble: Saulnier and his editor, Julia Bloch, intercut an ominous sequence with the climactic confrontation set piece. The audience would naturally expect the intercut sequence to be foreshadowing a supplemental confrontation, following or perhaps adding an element to our climactic confrontation. Instead, the moment amounts to a red herring and leaves you feeling a bit duped.
All this being said, “Green Room” still manages to be an effectively-made suspense piece that keeps you guessing, at least in terms of trying to predict key deaths (I started to see certain plot twists coming by the halfway point, and you probably will, too). It’s got plenty of gore, and you get to experience way more internal organs bursting out of people than you’d ever want see, albeit mostly in dimly-lit moments. The heavy-handedness kind of makes it something of a feel-bad movie, because the violence bears real weight, and is kind of relentless. The biggest original element of the flick that I did like, though, was its setup. Very rarely in modern movies do we get to see a realistic depiction of this fringe universe of hardcore punk and metal kids and the life of a broke, touring band of either genre. And, speaking as a fan and occasional player of that music, it was nice to witness characters I recognized. In the back of your mind, you know that a tiny microcosm of the metal scene is a cesspool of hate-mongering maniacs, and it’s always an unpleasant surprise to see them in your mosh pit. At least in this movie, many Nazi metal-heads get their just desserts at the ends of a band that represents the most positive elements of punk and metal music: good, smart people making aggressive, hate-free music, while still cranking up the fuzz and BPM. I don’t think this movie is a memorandum on that universe, per se, but it maybe it should have been. Making more of an over-arching point to that effect could have made for something more substantive than a sleek, sort of empty pressure-cooker, which unfortunately is all that “Green Room” wants to be.
A note: you can find more detailed trailers online than the one I’m linking you to here, but I would strongly urge against it. The less you know, the more entertaining the plot contortions baked up by Saulnier and co.