Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
The Plot: A punk rock group (Anton Yelchin, Joel Cole, Callum Turner, Alia Shawkat) find themselves in serious, life threatening jeopardy when they take a gig at a white supremacist compound only to have a murder occur during their set. Bolting themselves behind the door of the club’s “green room” they soon realize diplomacy won’t grant them safe passage from the Neo-Nazi’s nearly impregnable fortress. On the other side of the door an Aryan Nation commander (Patrick Stewart) finds himself trying to defuse a situation growing quickly out of his not-so-limited control. At his back are an army of skinheads, pitbulls, and an impressive armory of cutlery and firearms.
Never before has so heavy a burden been put upon the structural integrity of a single door.
The Film: It could have been Bowie’s Thin White Duke persona that started rock music’s flirtation with national socialism – with punk rock picking up the flag and pushing the courtship to a full blown tease. Punk has always seemed content with denouncing Nazism while being simultaneously infatuated with its purity of focus and high body count. In a world like the one the fictional band The Ain’t Rights live in, a nearly vagrant existence of playing, partying, and wandering toward the beer-fumed state of nowhere, the fascination with playing at a skinhead compound is almost too glamorous to ignore.
And for a variety of reasons.
Not least of which being the band needs a gig after their last one canceled and they’re down to stealing gasoline to keep their tour of the West Coast moving South. There’s also their subconscious drive to build a legacy of horrors to look back upon one day in rose-tinted retrospect. A sort of anti-highlights reel for a VH1 Behind The Music episode that will never ever air. Playing a show for American Aryans in a backwoods compound in western Oregon serves that very kind of thing.
There’s also just the pull of the dark side to factor in with their decision to take this show. Punk is all about disorder. National socialism about well-regimented disorder. Both lifestyles are easily aesthetically identifiable, but both are infinitely more difficult to define upon examination. The punks and the skins of Saulnier’s new film are modern day Droogs, fully committed to both recklessness and the permanent effects of radical expression. Music. Tattoos. Philosophies. Every shape of violence man can inflict on himself and others. All of it reckless and leaving scars.
In Green Room the dance between punk rock and Nazism is over. The two organisms finally collide in a monster-mash of punk/hardcore show and full on horror-show. In the most punk rock moment in the film the Ain’t Rights kick off their set with The Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks F-Off! pissing off a room full of dangerously intoxicated skinheads, while tenuously creating a superficial social boundary between themselves and the white power crowd. Middle fingers fly skyward. Beer bottles are tossed. A massive hillbilly inked in swastikas spits domestic beer at the band. This is our introduction to Werm. Chief gutturalist for the grindcore-metal band Cowcatcher. Think Glen Benton meets George Lincoln Rockwell – but operating on a dynamic range of narcotics.
Within a minute the song ends, (they all end in under a minute in this subset) with the skins still mad-dogging the band The Aint Rights kick into their own song, Coronary, and a not-so-subtle moment of unity occurs between the factions. The Aryans start slamdancing, the band feeds off their frenzy and amplifies it back creating a thundering energy feedback loop, and, for another minute at least, pure perfect hell breaks loose in the club. Jeremy Saulnier chooses to cut out all sound during this sequence, filling the sudden void in audio with Will and Brooke Blair’s crystalline string and synth score for the film. He then winds the speed of the visuals down to a crawl, highlighting for the first time in his movie, or maybe anybody’s movie, the neutral juncture where punks and skins solidify into a single species, this music so dismissed by society at large binding this collection of halfbreeds, criminals, and social misfits together under a single banner.
Later in the movie we learn that Werm was so moved by The Ain’t Rights song he picked up a knife and drove it through his ex-girlfriend’s skull in the green room behind the stage during the band’s performance. The Ain’t Rights misfortune is that upon conclusion of their set they stumble upon skinhead soldiers in flagrante delicto with crime scene clean-up.
Speaking of their song Coronary, Werm admits to the band, chillingly and vacant of anything resembling passion: “That’s the one I did her to.” His ex’s body stretched out on the floor behind him with a knife jutting out of her crown. In this eye-of-the-storm reveal we can only wonder if Saulnier gave the Coronary performance the empyrean treatment he did to cause psychological incongruity with us spectators, forcing us to reflect on what genuinely felt like a momentary alliance between rival clans, and this impromptu act of homicide that will ultimately have these two tribes ripping out each other’s throats in a few minutes.
What happens next can only be described as one of the best pseudo-home-invasion horror films since John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. And yes, I say horror film because Green Room shares the permeative final act atmosphere the very best of the genre implement through their misleadingly simple story structure. I say horror film because thrillers rarely get as red as this one chooses to. The kicker being that Sir Patrick Stewart and Imogen Poots lend their classically trained acting chops (fitting word considering the subject matter of the film) to what could have so easily become a splattery exercise in grindhouse idiocy in the hands of any other filmmaker. (read: Robert Rodriguez)
Green Room is unrelentingly violent, and Jeremy Saulnier’s decision to present the violence as is, without tweaking with the bass levels in the Foley-stage or spraying gore across his single interior set, make it feel that much more gratuitous – without pandering to gratuity. We should be disgusted and disturbed with extreme violence. With its unsympathetic tone Green Room solemnly reminds us that war, on any scale, should never be glorified. Battery and carnage are presented here in bulk, but through these graphic images and acts an unexpected metamorphosis occurs. The derma of these punk kids and skinheads sloughs off and their human core is exposed, like a raw nerve, for us to stare upon in excruciating fascination.
No matter what we may look like on the outside, this is what we all look like on the inside.
The Verdict: Green Room is a harrowing scheissesturm of testosterone and tribalism, and throwing good decisions after bad – and bad decisions after worse – that never once manages to feel juvenile or tasteless. I felt absolutely flensed leaving the theater after my screening of this film. Like I needed a trip to the ER to be stitched back together again. Think of Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room as Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange but stripped completely of its cinematic flourishes and sexuality, yet every bit as confident and traumatic. That A24 managed to rope not just The Witch, but Green Room as well in their 2016 roster shows that at least one film distributor cares about the future of American cinema. Easily one of the early front runners for 2016’s best film.