It is largely undisputed, here upon the occasion of writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room being released on home video, that it is spectacular cinema. It’s so good it’s almost a situation where you either love Green Room or you haven’t seen Green Room. Having already reviewed the film during its run at Fantastic Fest, I thought I’d present a few elements that take this from being merely a strong siege thriller to a work of brilliance. Because make no mistake, Green Room is not some ethereal exercise or throw away action spectacle, but rather harrowing cinema largely unrivaled in its tense pacing and economical storytelling.
Patrick Stewart’s Darcy Is The Quintessential Villain of our Times
Sure, the cast of Green Room is fantastic pretty much across the board. And Patrick Stewart’s performance isn’t entirely flawless, with his American accent never quite sticking the landing. It also couldn’t matter any less as Darcy is a truly menacing villain perfectly representative of the times we live in. His villainy is quiet and played in a very understated manner, making the menace something grander than a bunch of screaming and raging. This performance choice is crucial, but only one element of what makes Darcy so singular.
Saulnier’s writing takes him the rest of the way to greatness. Darcy runs a tight ship at his white supremacist club. Fire codes are fastidiously observed, for instance, to keep the authorities off of his back. That’s just good business. His white supremacist gang is also strictly run. Perhaps if Darcy was a true believer, he’d be more of a traditional screen villain. But the true villainy of Darcy lies in the fact that he’s not a true believer. Neither a punk nor an ideologue, Darcy’s truest motivations are naked capitalism. The Naziism may be authentic, but, like the fire code observation, Darcy’s movement is a front designed to make money (with drugs, of course). And his greed manifests as blood lust when his operation is compromised. There’s no romanticism to Darcy. He’s the perfect 2016 villain, mirroring our real world leaders who masquerade as cause-driven, and cave to the almighty dollar all the while. Stewart’s terrifying line delivery and Saulnier’s writing combine to create a brilliant and loathsome villain who reminds us of those we repeatedly elect to office.
Green Room Is Punk As Fuck, Part 1
I’m no authority on punk. But I know when it’s done really poorly. I know when what I’m seeing is NOT punk, no matter how hard it tries to be. Punk is a culture that values authenticity over anything else. Money or mainstream culture be damned, punk is going to do what punk is going to do. It is, therefore, very hard to portray on the big screen with authenticity. And despite there being many instances of punks on film, it’s a rare film set explicitly in the world of punk rock. And an even rarer one that succeeds. Green Room is a siege thriller melded perfectly into the world of punk, creating a genre mashup both unexpected and brave.
Mashups are best when they don’t FEEL like mashups. Green Room does an incredible job of grounding the audience with a touring band struggling to make it to their next stop, playing because of the love, making music well, together. You’re so quickly drawn into the world of The Ain’t Rights that when the thriller part of the movie begins, you feel as innocently assaulted as our characters do. And even once the action movie takes over, the punk roots of the story are never far from the surface. It’s remarkable.
Green Room Is Punk As Fuck, Part 2
Aside from the genre mashup and the challenge of making an authentic punk film, there’s the music itself. The opening sequences of Green Room are economical and brief, but they’re crucial to the film, and they’re highly musically based. The Ain’t Rights siphoning gas to afford their tour in their busted van, their naive bravado performing “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off” to a hostile crowd, and then the most sublime moment of the movie. As our heroes lay into their set after having pissed off the crowd with their Nazi joke, the music creates a unified moment of serenity just before the bottom drops out. With the audio dropped and an atmospheric drone, we see a bunch of punks moshing in unison, driven by the shared love of music that momentarily pushes aside all else. The tragedy of the rest of the film is more crushing after the heights of musical purity found in that moment. Like Anton Yelchin’s character states early in the film “Music is shared live. It’s time and aggression. You gotta be there. And then it’s over.”
Everyone Acts Intelligently
Movie villains often rely on our protagonists behaving stupidly in order to fall right into their clutches. It’s the classic scenario where slasher victims always run upstairs instead of out the front door. This trope is entirely absent in Green Room. Screenwriters have to solve a lot of their own problems if they make both the cat and the mouse equally smart. But that’s exactly what Jeremy Saulnier does here, and the audience reaps the rewards. Darcy’s villainy has already been discussed, and his masterful control over a situation “gone south” is breathtaking and matched only by our heroes’ makeshift resolve to not die in this place. Over and over again the tables are turned, and it rarely if ever seems that a character does something convenient for the screenplay but divorced from reality. This thriller is meticulously paced and impeccably written.
The Stakes Are Stomach Churningly Small
This is a battle for life and death. It becomes so instantly upon the discovery of a dead body where there shouldn’t be one. The Ain’t Rights are out of their depth, and realize quickly that their lives are at stake. They also understand equally as quickly that, through circumstances that felt normal at the time, no one knows where they are. But as the film makes perfectly clear… not many people would have missed a broke punk band from the Washington, DC area had they silently disappeared after a show at the wrong club. If The Ain’t Rights disappear at the hands of Darcy and his crew, the world will go on. There’s no saving the world here. There’s no grand spectacle in Green Room. It’s the anti-blockbuster. Eighty percent of the movie takes place in closed quarters and dark spaces. This is a small movie, nerve-twingingly so. Which makes it refreshing.
Green Room is already a seminal film. One of the best of 2016. As a response to world-shattering blockbusters, it’s a master class in suspension and cat and mouse writing. As a statement on punk rock and the naked corruption of our leaders, it cements its place as an all-time great contribution to punk cinema. This is no mere mashup or clever action film… it’s a bold statement from an up and coming master filmmaker that cannot be ignored.
And I’m Out.
Green Room is now available on Blu-ray from Lionsgate Home Entertainment