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green room

A couple of days ago I was lucky enough to see “Green Room” prior to its UK wide release and I was impressed. It’s an American horror-thriller written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier and, whilst it isn’t a film for the masses, it suited my tastes perfectly. It’s slow-paced, tense, and honest, featuring great performances from Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart.

The film revolves around a punk-rock band known as ‘The Ain’t Rights’, a bunch of misfits who are in the process of gigging in the Pacific Northwest. They take their music seriously and they care more about it than they do about money, so in an effort to stay fresh and focus on the live experience they have no social media presence – something which they regret as the story progresses. The film really gets going when a local radio host sets them up with a gig outside of Portland, but fails to mention that the place they’ll be playing is a neo-Nazi bar in the middle of nowhere. When they find this out it doesn’t particularly faze them, but for a quick laugh they perform a Dead Kennedys cover – ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’. This sets the tone for the rest of the film, as the band go up against a bunch of vicious skinheads in a battle of life-and-death.

However, it isn’t the song itself which causes this face-off. Whilst the song aggravates some people in the crowd, it doesn’t bring about any sort of riot or start a fight – it’s simply a wink to the audience about what’s about to go down and a moment of comedy to offset the upcoming violence. The catalyst which sets the violent events of the movie into motion is actually the murder of a young woman (Emily played by Taylor Tunes) in the green room; a murder which takes place whilst ‘The Ain’t Rights’ are on stage.

The reason that the band gets mixed up in the craziness is that Sam (Alia Shawkat), the only girl in the group, left her phone on charge in the green room whilst she was playing. Thus, when Pat (another member of the band, played by Anton Yelchin) went to retrieve it for her, he saw the girl’s dead body and freaked out. It was all just a horrible mistake, which feeds into the story of the film quite well because nothing that happens is meant to feel larger than life – it’s just a situation that goes wrong and the audience gets to watch on as the band try to survive.

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via fact.co.uk

This set-up is awesome and easy to follow, but if I had one complaint it would be that the reason that Emily died in the first place was pretty mundane. Given that her death sets the meat of film into motion, I would’ve liked if there had been a more interesting story behind it than the one which played out on screen – I’m not saying that it was terrible, but it wasn’t particularly inventive.

Still, there were plenty of other aspects of the story that I did like, particularly the violence and the pacing. The way that the film was paced allowed the story to flow naturally, which meant that tension was built and the characters, (particularly the villains), were afforded more time to develop. Whilst it may have been slightly slow at times, this served the plot because once the protagonists were out in the open they were extremely vulnerable. If they had tried to take the fight to the skinheads straight away then they would’ve all died, and if they had all died at once then the story would’ve stagnated, which meant that to keep the film going the characters had to talk things out and fully understand the decisions they were making – thus they spent a lot of time hiding away in the green room. This made sense because the characters were in a very precarious situation, one that they probably didn’t want to face and would be happy to put off, and also because in that kind of situation you really need to be able to psych yourself up for the worst case scenario.

My favourite thing about “Green Room” was definitely the violence, which whilst uncomfortable, was incredibly unflinching and admirable. I’m not squeamish, I never have been and I never will be, so seeing a bit of blood here and there doesn’t bother me at all. What does bother me when I’m watching a film is dishonesty – not in the traditional sense of course, but in the sense that what’s happening in front of my eyes isn’t a true depiction of what would happen if that situation really occurred. This is an issue which applies to all films, not simply films like this one which feature violence heavily – films like “The Avengers” and “Batman v Superman” which don’t even technically take place in the same universe as ours should still be honest with their audience, because they depict violence, aggression, and ultimately death. They lie to their audience when they tone these elements down, telling those in attendance that when a man is thrown at a wall he can immediately get back up, when in reality the man would bleed, suffer, and probably never fully recover from his injuries.

“Green Room” doesn’t face these sorts of problems, because when a person is cut they are cut deep – you see the fleshy parts of them that are usually reserved for A&E, and the camera doesn’t turn away when things get messy. There are no convenient plot holes to save characters when they get stabbed or attacked by rabid dogs, because there are no such get-out-of-jail-free cards in life; when people get attacked by vicious men like the ones in this film they get hurt and they die, painfully, because that’s the situation they are in. From where I’m standing, this is the beauty of “Green Room” – it tells a story, it tells it bluntly, and then it ends without a happy ever after.

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The only real issue that I had with this movie as a whole was with the villain, Darcy (Patrick Stewart). For the majority of the film he was a brilliant character – cold and calculated, you got the sense that this wasn’t the first time that he’d had to resolve a situation that had gone south. Patrick Stewart’s performance was perfect, as he gave a level of gravitas and assurance to the character that was desperately needed, and delivered his lines with authority.

(SPOILER ALERT) However, when push came to shove the writers needed to have two of their protagonists make it out alive, which meant that Darcy had to disappear. If he didn’t then it just wouldn’t have been believable that the pair got out alive, because he was too cunning and oozed control. The issue then is 1) that the character being who he was – a leader of men with a high level of intellect – would never have taken a chance by leaving before the job was done; and 2) the reason that he left was pretty stupid. He basically left to oversee the creation of a fake crime scene – a scene which would ensure that legally the gang wasn’t culpable for the murders that they had committed – but this wasn’t as important as making sure that nobody lived to tell the tale. If any of the band members survived then the creation of the crime scene would’ve been pointless, so although time was of the essence, in my opinion the more pressing matter was finishing off the job.  As such, Darcy should’ve stayed until all the protagonists were dead and put the final touches to the crime scene later on if need be.

All in all, “Green Room” was a thoughtful film with fantastic performances, and although it wasn’t without its issues, I loved watching on as the protagonists tried to outsmart the antagonists. I admired the fact that violence was used sparingly but honestly, and although it isn’t a film for everyone I would heartily recommend it.

8/10

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