(This review is a two-part publication, written by Cinemaker Blog contributor Jake Sanders and Community Coordinator Spencer Mirabal respectively.)
Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is a step in the right direction; A modernized slasher film that we deserve, but one that feels unrefined. We follow a hardcore punk rock band that, after witnessing a murder, is forced by a group of skinheads to stay in a green room. As tensions and the need to escape intensify, so too does the violence and brutality.
On a technical side, the film is an aesthetically pleasing horror/thriller. Cinematographer Sean Porter has captured the pure grit and grunge of backwoods Oregon, along with the visual beauty of the modern punk rock movement. The atmosphere and mise-en-scene of this film so eloquently move along, which leaves the audience on the edge of their seat, wanting more.
Everything else is wasted potential. Most of the film is not boring, but the patterns of what we expect to happen next become apparent. The “good guys” plan an escape, and they are met with disturbing and brutal violence in their wake. The violence is stunning, but it’s not enough to care. The characters are all just archetypes and portraits of what I would expect from a Texas Chainsaw sequel. The good guys are “good guys” because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The bad guys are “bad guys” because they are Neo-Nazis, which is enough justification to do what they do.
Unfortunately, because of these simplistic archetypes, I don’t care enough for the consequences of anyone, protagonists or antagonists. Nor do they seem to care at points. The threat of death, or of this venue being discovered by the police, is apparent, and yet, no one takes them seriously. I have no problems with simplistic characters or motivations, but with how complex the film presents itself, it left me wanting more. A good example of the slasher archetypes done right, in recent memory, is Cabin in the Woods which blends humor, gore, terror, and a level of meta-filmmaking that is complex and great. Green Room didn’t need to be this, but it needed more complicated characters to root for.
The cast did fine, including a sub-par Patrick Stewart. Saulnier’s previous film, Blue Ruin, comes highly recommend over this more recent effort. Overall, this film didn’t have any message to take away. The only thematic take-away I have is a line from one of the band members calling out a skinhead, saying, “You were much scarier at night.” The theme here being that there really are monsters in the dark. But that’s it. A patterned story about a band trying to escape from a concert hall is a fun idea, presented at a very high level of technical prowess, which thankfully brings a level of professionalism to the slasher genre. However, like the slasher genre, I don’t care for the mix of eccentric and bland “good guys,” and unlike the slasher genre, I don’t care for the bland and predictable villains.
There’s a moment in the first set of Green Room where the fictitious band “The Ain’t Rights” has finished playing a cover of Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks, F**k Off” to a crowd full of Nazi-sympathizing skin heads. The crowd boos, bottles are chucked, and there’s an uncertainty as to how our down-on-their-luck poor, struggling punk protagonists are going to turn it around. They decide to literally play it safe, and take the advice of their mohawk homie who gave them gig to “play the old stuff”. They play the tune, the crowd gets into it, and in a slow moving trance of a sequence, we are hooked into the euphoria of the pure feeling of performance. We know why they play.
An aesthetic playground of the Pacific Northwest punk scene, Green Room is masquerading itself as an utterly brutal modern horror film, capturing the fear that a Trump-run America’s citizens will allow their violent instincts and bigotry to destroy anyone who doesn’t “get in line”. A bunch of well meaning kids trapped in the wrong place/wrong time scenario of a white supremacist crew of skinheads killing one their own, and since they’ve witnessed it, something has to be done about them.
But beyond the concept, the horror dial definitely must have been muted. A few gruesome, gory moments can’t shake the film’s lack of truly making it’s villains villainous. Patrick Stewart’s performance as head honcho of all things racist, Darcy, seems more grizzled than menacing, never doing anything more than orchestrating others to maim these unsuspecting punk kids for no good reason other than “they don’t fall in line with our beliefs”. This can be taken as a horrifying painting of what could be (and unfortunately, may already be) in some parts of the world, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that in some small way, someone would survive. The film wears a mask of being “genre troupe breaking”, but unfortunately befalls under everything I find repetitive in the horror genre.
Things to find interesting in the film are the visuals. Somehow, Director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin) and Director of Photography Sean Porter take the otherwise drab, stagnant overcast of a winter in Oregon and make it more beautiful than I’ve ever seen represented in cinema. The grimy moments are grimy. The romantic evergreens are glowing and majestic. It’s a great film to look at. And, as mentioned before, the hard-rocking punk world building in the film is great.
If those things, along with some incredible make-up and some unrelentless violence are enough for you, Green Room will rock your world. Outside of that, it’s a few pieces away from being a complete setlist of a film.
(Green Room is playing at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – South Lamar and Regal Arbor 8 @ Great Hills)
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