Looking Back at 2010s Films: Green Room (2016)

4 Oct

960

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, are you afraid of Patrick Stewart? You will be.

In the excellent survival thriller “Green Room,” he plays the head of a Neo-Nazi organization in his remote club in the Pacific Northwest. A punk band on their way out of performing for the club has just witnessed a murder in the green room, and so now Stewart and his skinhead army use artillery, attack dogs, whatever they can to make sure this band doesn’t leave this place alive.

Stewart pretty much plays the scum of the earth–racist, violent, and unapologetic for it. And he plays it the way you’d think Patrick Stewart would play it–calm, intelligent, and commanding. He’s a great villain in a story that is very tense and very gruesome.

Our heroes are a punk band called the Ain’t Rights–Pat (the late Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner). They siphon gas to continue on their tour, which is basically just them going wherever a club or dive will let them perform. Oh, and they don’t do social media. Why? Because apparently, if they have a social media presence, their fans, what little they have, won’t be in the moment. They only reluctantly grant an interview to a podcaster. These guys want to be “hardcore,” but the truth of the matter is they’re full of sh*t.

After their last gig falls through, they’re given another opportunity at an out-of-the-way rural beer hall in the middle of some woods in Oregon…where a bunch of head-banging white supremacists like to party.

Here’s what you do in this situation–you say “no” and turn around and end the tour and go home!

But no, they got this. They even perform a cover of “Nazi Punks F*** Off!” just to show they’re so cool. But it’s OK because the crowd are sheep who start banging their heads as soon as the band plays something else. Now all they have to do is leave. But oh shoot–Sam left her phone charger in the green room. Pat goes to get it. And there’s where he sees something he definitely wasn’t supposed to see.

Now, the band and a tough rebel named Amber (Imogen Poots) are held in the green room by the huge, intimidating Justin (Eric Edelstein) who has a big gun, while Gabe (Macon Blair) and leader Darcy (Stewart) try to figure out how to fix the situation…which they feel should end in the band’s deaths.

From that point, it’s one horrible situation after another, as the band find themselves in a real hardcore scenario they’re forced to fight their way out of. And let it tell you…it gets pretty graphic. When it comes to doing these gruesome acts of violence in the name of survival, it’s uncompromising. You see what a box-cutter can really do to a person, a character’s hand is barely dangling onto the rest of his arm after it’s been sliced repeatedly (and duct-taped together), and you even see the full-on effect of a shotgun blast at close range. This film is not for the squeamish. (The part with the box-cutter, I cover my eyes during subsequent viewings of the film.)

The film is so realistic in its brutal tone that things happen when you least expect them to. For instance, when the band takes a chance and leaves the green room with no plan of action, two of the members are disposed of fairly quickly, one after the other. They didn’t have a prayer. When you’re out of your element and you don’t know what to do and you’re just going by instinct alone, of course it’s not going to end well.

And that’s what leads me to an important thing about the film that some vloggers have paid attention to more than film critics–the right way to use bad decisions in horror movies. In “Scream,” when a character is attacked by a killer and runs upstairs because she can’t get through the front door, that’s the right move because she’s in fight-or-flight mode. In “Prometheus,” when the scientists on an alien planet remove their helmets and mess around with alien objects, that’s not the right move because they should know better. In “Green Room,” the characters aren’t thinking straight; they’re just going by blind luck. The action is not only moved forward by these actions; they’re used as a way to make us realize we probably wouldn’t fare any better if we were in their shoes. They’re desperate, in a world they didn’t make, and don’t know what to do–they just know they’re going to die for sure if they stay and do nothing. So it makes sense that they sneak around without a plan of action…and it also makes sense that two of them are killed off right then and there.

Jeremy Saulnier wrote and directed “Green Room” and also did “Blue Ruin”–when it comes to taut, atmospheric, tense thrillers, he seems like the guy to call. He also lets us care for the characters who are going through such terror.

All the actors playing the band members do really good work (though I could tell Joe Cole was trying to hide an accent–I looked him up, and surely enough, he’s English). This was one of Anton Yelchin’s final film roles before his tragic death, and he does great, sympathetic work as the pacifistic one who finds the best way to get through this war is play it like it’s a game (“like paintball,” he decides) because that will throw the armed men off a bit. It’s hard not to feel anything for him when he finally sheds a tear and declares the whole night a “nightmare.”

(And yeah, I’m waiting for that Yelchin-based documentary “Love, Antosha” too.)

And Patrick Stewart…even when he knows he’s got no other options in the end, he still maintains his calm presence. Any other actor, his character’s final moment wouldn’t be as memorable.

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