Saturday, April 30, 2016

Review: Green Room (2016)

Green Room (2016)

Rated R for strong brutal graphic violence, gory imagery, language and some drug content

Score: 4 out of 5

Green Room isn't the best film of 2016, but damn if it's not a great little survival thriller. With a great cast, led in an especially chilling turn by Patrick Stewart as the leader of a neo-Nazi gang, and a grimy air of sleaze, grit, and intensity, it's yet another one of those "little indie horror flicks than can" that seem to be all the rage now. And like its compatriots, it earns the praise it's been given. If you're a fan of punk rock, survival horror movies, or violent thrillers, definitely check this out.

Our protagonists are the Ain't Rights, a punk rock band from Arlington, Virginia composed of Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner). They are touring the Pacific Northwest with a van and barely a penny to their name, such that they have to steal fuel from parked cars in order to get by. Desperate for money, they get a local DJ to hook them up with a gig at a remote dive bar in the Oregon woods; he warns them that the place is owned and frequented by Nazi skinheads, but they're not gonna pass up easy money. After the gig (which they open with a cover of "Nazi Punks Fuck Off", to predictable effect), they witness the murder of a young woman in the green room and try (and fail) to call the police, compelling the bar's owner, the gang leader and drug trafficker Darcy (Patrick Stewart), to have them eliminated in order to silence them. What follows is a long siege wherein the Ain't Rights, together with a club regular named Amber (Imogen Poots) who's just as horrified by what happened as the rest of them, barricade themselves in the club's green room fending off a vicious gang of neo-Nazis in red-shoelaced Doc Martens itching to give them a boot party from hell. Meanwhile, some of Darcy's men are having second thoughts about their membership in the gang, especially once they learn about the true circumstances of how the woman in the green room died.

This is not a film that wows you with breathtaking vistas. It's tight, dingy, and claustrophobic, putting the viewer right into a pit of filth even before the main characters get to the club. We get the sense from very early on that the Ain't Rights, as passionate as they are about their music, have no clue what they're doing, letting that passion to keep their music "pure" (particularly their refusal to promote themselves via social media) override a sound strategy to get their name out there and stop struggling to make ends meet. They work hard, but they don't work smart, and it was inevitable that they'd run into a situation like this eventually; it may not have been guaranteed to involve a bunch of White Power Rangers trying to kill them, but it could just as easily have been someone they stole money or gas from to get by. And on the other side, we get the Nazis, a bunch of guys who, while still dangerous, are portrayed not as the elite master race they believe themselves to be, but as a group of pathetic nitwits. Whether it's a bad upbringing in a rough neighborhood (as Amber's story suggests) or a simple desire to fit in, they've fallen in with lowlifes and degenerates who feed them a steady diet of toxic machismo and tell them that they're better than everyone, such that they feel oppressed whenever anybody tries to call them on it (the stickers in the green room bear messages of "stop white genocide!" and "know who the real victims are!"). They're not monsters, as we see with Amber, Gabe, and Daniel, but when misled with a dangerous ideology, they make a real monster into a potent threat.

That monster, of course, is Darcy, the leader of the neo-Nazi gang. Patrick Stewart in this film is a long way from Captain Picard or Professor X, the classy, gentlemanly diplomats who seek peace and prosperity. No, here he's Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad meets Edward Norton in American History X, a cold, calculating criminal who knows how to inspire passion in his followers with a fatherly image, one that almost fools the Ain't Rights initially even when he's secretly about to kill them. It doesn't take long, of course, for that image to fall away and his real colors to come out, and when the do, the man is a chilling presence on screen, a guy who you truly believe will not hesitate to not only kill the folks threatening to expose the drugs and violence around his operation, but find a way to frame them and make it look like they had it coming. For those who've grown up seeing Stewart playing heroes who would likely be facing off against villains with Darcy's beliefs, watching him create such a terrifying antagonist was a true demonstration of the man's talent.

On the other side, we get capable performances as the Ain't Rights throw down with the best of them, the entire cast delivers solid work along the way. The standouts were Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots as Pat and Amber, both of them overcoming their Hollywood good looks to create characters who feel strung out and desperate, but there wasn't a weak link among them. We care for these characters, as flawed as they are as people, such that, when the deaths do start to come, they are shocking in both their brutality (the kills are exceptionally violent) and in their suddenness. This isn't a movie that clearly delineates when a character is going to die; no, it's a survival movie, and from the moment shit gets real, there is always a sense that anybody could die. The only real question I had with the characters concerned the writing, particularly with how comfortable Amber winds up being with killing people. While Poots did a good job creating a character who felt almost as vicious as Darcy was (the lighter scene especially was a standout moment on her part), it didn't really jibe with the shock she felt when we were introduced to her after the death of the woman in the green room. Amber was a huge mystery to me, and arguably a more interesting character than the film seemed to realize, with none of the characters ever really commenting on her behavior.

The Bottom Line:

Green Room is a taut, intense survival horror flick that shouldn't be overlooked. It doesn't do much new, but it's gifted with a mix of visceral thrills, atmosphere, and intelligence that many such films lack. If it's playing near you, definitely check it out.

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