*. Green Room is a very familiar movie in some ways. A punk band finds itself playing a gig in hell, and soon find themselves trapped in what looks and feels like a particularly nasty episode of Breaking Bad.
*. Taking a step further back, the siege, with good guys barricaded inside while monsters outside are trying to break in, is one of the most basic horror plots. It makes the essential list of archetypes, even if we’re boiling down said list to only the top three or four.
*. From this basic concept, however, things soon wander off track. And I think “wander” is the right word. This is an action thriller that defies expectations by disappointing them in a casual way. So while the film is something different, I can’t say it’s all that effective in its difference.
*. I think the biggest example of this has to do with the monsters: a gang of neo-Nazis led by a guy named Darcy.
*. The gang are criminals and clearly bad dudes with murderous intent, but they are also strangely unthreatening. The scariest of them, a guy named Werm, disappears from the film shortly after being introduced, and I’m still not sure if he was a bad guy or just dim. This leaves Big Justin (who is easily overcome by the band), Gabe (who is actually a nice guy), Daniel (who turns out to be on the band’s side), a dog trainer who really only cares about the welfare of his dogs (who are in turn faithfully loyal to him), and a pair of supposedly elite “red shoelace” punks who turn out to be incompetent and cowardly.
*. Then there’s Darcy, played by Patrick Stewart. Stewart manages to lend the part some gravitas, but it doesn’t call for much and he doesn’t try to play it up at all. Darcy seems tired, weary. Early on he complains that his voice is giving out. When he remarks at the end that it’s been a hellish night for everyone, himself included, we can believe him. He’s not a sadistic person but just a small businessman who wants to clean up a mess that somebody else made. Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier says of him that his presence is more threatening than who he actually is, and calls this Stewart’s “quietest performance ever given on stage or screen.” Pat is disappointed when they finally meet face to face, commenting that he was so scary at night, when he was just a voice.
*. All of this strikes me as very realistic, especially compared to the usual fare of superhuman bad guys who have to be killed several times over. When people get killed in this movie, they stay dead. Also realistic is the simplicity of the story. Don’t be expecting the usual series of plot twists and revelations. There’s no conspiracy, as Daniel says at one point, it’s all just a clusterfuck.
*. I’d like to applaud all this, but it has the effect of draining the film of most of its energy. The heavies here need to be heavier. They have to be more dangerous.
*. As for our heroes, they are a strange bunch as well. And I think “strange” is also the right word. I’m not saying this to be negative, but Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots both look and sound a bit strange. Then on top of this they play strange characters. What is Pat’s problem? Why can’t he think of a favourite band? I guess some performers are introverts, but he seems to take things too far. Amber, meanwhile, is a weirdly low-key badass, almost sleepwalking through the violence. When she kills Big Justin it’s like she’s undoing a zipper on his gut. Again one feels an entropic undertow in the film, a failure to really engage.
*. Or does Reece kill Justin? It isn’t clear to me. Amber just slices his belly open, which would be messy and painful as hell, but not a fatal wound, at least immediately. I suppose Reece might have broken his neck. It isn’t clear.
*. One point of against-convention realism I appreciated was all the business with the cellphones. I was dreading the now obligatory scene where someone would try to make a call only to find out that there was no reception in this backwoods hideout. They didn’t go that route, and the business of making calls becomes a real plot point.
*. I’ll confess I sent up a little prayer at the start that I wouldn’t have to listen to much punk music. That stuff’s OK live in a club, I guess, but everywhere else it just sounds like what it is, which is noise.
*. Speaking of punk, is there still a punk scene? I don’t recall it being big even back when it was big, but are bands like the Ain’t Rights really out there?
*. The script strikes me as not very well thought out. There’s a “big paintball speech” (quoting Jeremy Saulnier) that takes up a lot of time, twice, and it should have been dropped, as it doesn’t have a useful point to make. Why does Darcy tell Justin to give the band his gun? That struck me as a pointless, counterproductive gesture. All it does is drag out the negotiations. But later, when it seems like the gang wouldn’t have much trouble storming the green room (this is once they’d got the gun back), they just sit on their hands. And why is it that the only entrance to the secret lab and money vault for the gang is in a guest lounge? Does that make sense?
*. There are also inconsistencies. I like the realism of the shotgun being of no use in the initial breakout because Sam doesn’t know how to use it and she fires it without hitting anything. On the commentary Saulnier points out that this is more along the lines of what you would expect. But then we get the big paintball speech about going berserker (“full jackass”) and this does work for Amber and Pat. So realism just goes out the window. On the commentary he insists that the paintball speech is based on a true story and could really happen, but this contradicts what he’d just said about people who don’t know a thing about guns not being able to stand up against professionals.
*. Actually, I don’t think the film contradicts itself here. I just think the paintball speech and Saulnier’s commentary is misleading, since Pat and Amber’s plan is in fact quite well thought out. They don’t go crazy.
*. One nice line in the script comes when Darcy asks Gabe if Reece is still breathing. Gabe replies “A little bit, yeah.” The reason I like that is because it’s not exactly what you expect him to say (“barely” would be the formulaic answer), and it doesn’t really make sense, but it fits because Gabe is upset and maybe a bit confused. So give some credit for the script on that one (if the line wasn’t improvised).
*. They call it a green room because many of the early ones were painted green or had green décor. I don’t think many of them today are actually green or even have much green in them. This one doesn’t seem very green, which is disappointing because it would have made an interesting parallel with the green world outside, the dripping emerald forests of the Northwest. They could have really gone to town with that palette, but didn’t. Instead everything just looks dark.
*. The great outdoors also makes an interesting parallel with the club because the forest is just as claustrophobic as the green room, if not more so. Even the overhead shot of the road makes it look like it’s being overgrown with moss, the most basic line demarking civilization being lost. You don’t have the sense that Pat and Amber are escaping anything at the end but just going deeper into the heart of darkness.
*. I was a little surprised at how favourable a reception this one received. It’s not a bad movie, and it does take a different tack than many films of its ilk, but in the end nothing stands out about it and it’s too understated for its own good. The way Darcy just turns and walks away from Pat and Amber at the end underlines this. It’s so weird and anticlimactic a finish. Saulnier calls it “a defiant march,” and I guess on some level it is, but it looks as though he’s leaving the picture because he really has someplace else he has to be and he’s tired of all this now. And how does that make us feel?