Green Room (2016) – Movie Review
Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Written by: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner & Patrick Stewart
Music: Brooke Blair & Will Blair
Release Date: May 13th 2016
In terms of indie/low-budget filmmaking, horrors and thrillers are one of the best ways to cut your teeth and get established. Thanks to the low budget, emphasis on small practical effects and prepencity for showing as little as possible, it’s an effective starting-point, especially if you can get a credible star attached to give the film some legitimacy. For almost 10 years, filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier has proven that this method can work as he’s found great success on the festival circuit with the horror comedy ‘Murder Party‘ in 2007 and the low-budget thriller ‘Blue Ruin‘ in 2013.
Now, after screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, Saulnier is back with the horror-thriller ‘Green Room‘ which he wrote and directed and he also has high-calibre talent such as Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots in front of the camera. Instead of moving onto different genres or styles, Saulnier has clearly found a playground he’s comfortable in but is there much more material to be gleamed here or is ‘Green Room‘ just playing a “greatest hits” compilation of the genre?
The punk band “The Ain’t Rights” are travelling through the Pacific Northwest trying to pay their way performing small gigs. Band members Pat (Yelchin), Sam (Shawkat), Reece (Cole) and Tiger (Turner) get invited to a remote forest to perform at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar. Despite antagonising the neo-Nazis, the show goes well but just as the band are about to leave, they stumble across a murder scene and now that they’re witnesses the neo-Nazis cannot allow their escape or survival. Teaming up with a club regular, Amber (Poots) “The Ain’t Rights” have to fight off the neo-Nazis to find their freedom from the oppressive bar-owner Darcy (Stewart).
It’s a solid premise and it does provide a simple black-and-white dynamic. Regardless of your taste in music, it would be hard to not root for “The Ain’t Rights” punk band if their opponents are literally Nazis. ‘Green Room‘ follows the horror tropes to a T with the group isolated in the woods, not able to use their cell phones and no help for miles around. Most of the movie takes place either in or around the neo-Nazi club as the band and Amber barricade themselves in the Green Room.
But one of the main issues with ‘Green Room‘ is how willingly it rests on its laurels and offers very little in the way of personality. The main characters in the movie are Pat, played by Anton Yelchin and Amber played by Imogen Poots but the rest of the supporting cast are interchangeable and are severely lacking in character or personality. There’s nothing to distinguish the band-members apart and nothing that makes them unique or memorable. They show up at the beginning of the movie, perform a song to Nazis and then they start getting killed off one by one. There’s no connection or interest in seeing these flatly written people get out alive. And this isn’t like many slasher horror films where you’re made to loath the victims so you can enjoy seeing them get offed. There’s just nothing to them and no investment to be had. You don’t hate them and you don’t love them. I think it’s psychologically impossible to care less about them.
As for our leads, Anton Yelchin tries his best with the material but the character’s meek demeanour and down-to-earth personality is just how Yelchin naturally acts when he’s given no direction. The only thing that amounts to actual characterisation on a screenplay level is that he doesn’t know what “Desert Island Band” he’d choose. The movie is so confident and assured of this limp, single element that it book-ends the movie with it. And as for Imogen Poots, she does have characteristics it’s just that they’re dependent entirely on the plot as she’s a scared damsel one moment and a badass Nazi killer the next with no middle-ground. In fact, when it comes to the basic concept of just WHO she is playing, it’s never actually said. When someone asks her who she is (as she just kind of…appears in the movie), she explains herself in the BACKGROUND as other characters start talking about a separate topic which the movie focuses on instead.
The movie has such a disregard for its own leads that it literally ignores them. If the movie doesn’t care about these people, then why should I?
And then we get the movie’s structure which, while solid, settles far too comfortably into a groove which doesn’t feel appropriate for the genre and style. Once the band discover the murder in the Green Room the plot goes; “Plan escape. Escape goes wrong. Retreat back to the Green Room.” and then repeats itself two more times before the credits roll. It becomes very formulaic and doesn’t allow for any surprises, twists or up-ending of expectations; vital tools for any effective thriller or horror. So when the killing starts and these characters we barely know or care about get killed at the exact moment you expect them too…well, ‘Green Room‘ becomes a bit of a chore to watch. The only thing that you can be caught off guard by is who dies and in what order but because all of the characters are interchangeable it’s hardly a supplement for tension.
One element that could have easily saved the enterprise, however, is the casting of Patrick Stewart as the neo-Nazi leader Darcy. While Stewart has had a few villainous roles for the stage, in film he’s mainly known as the kind-hearted Professor Xavier in the “X-Men” franchise, or for his numerous comedy roles, so the counter-casting of this experienced Thespian as a villain in a horror/thriller movie sounds amazing. Too bad Darcy has absolutely nothing to do. He just stands around telling the other Nazis that it’s “too late” and that they need to get those meddling kids etc. One potentially awesome scene has Yelchin and Stewart on opposite sides of a locked door discussing terms but the dialogue simply doesn’t pop. There’s nothing there for Stewart to run away with despite his natural talent and charisma.
The rest of the cast are okay, but there’s so little to work with here that no one really shines. Yelchin comes across the best through moments of awkward humour and many of the neo-Nazi supporting actors and extras are appropriately intimidating but ‘Green Room‘ is personality free. There are some inspired dark flourishes like Darcy instructing the neo-Nazis to wear red laces but there seems to be so little thematically at play here. The directions Pat and Amber go in during the third act feel like a poor-man’s version of ‘Straw Dogs‘ and the ending is so under-stated and anti-climactic for no particular reason other than to be under-stated and anti-climactic for the sake of it.
It’s not a bad looking film, however as the lighting is effective all the way through and the neo-Nazi club is filmed in such a way that the audience quickly pick up on its geography and lay-out so they can follow the band’s plans at the same time they’re made. Despite taking place in a handful of locations ‘Green Room‘ doesn’t feel like a cheap movie and the punk-inspired music by Brooke and Will Blair feels inspired and should make target demographics very happy. As for the extensive gore make-up effects, they’re hit and miss.
You can’t fault the ambition of someone getting sliced from the naval to the chest to see if they’re dead but when someone gets shot in the face with a shotgun at point-blank range and only has a small wound the size of a golf-ball, it doesn’t seem right. A lot of the gore is kept in the dark, however and despite many people saying that the movie was too gory or gruesome for them I was left pretty unphased. There’s nothing in terms of injuries or aftermath in ‘Green Room’ that hasn’t been done before and done better in other contemporary horrors or thrillers. Obviously, as an audience member, your mileage on the gore will vary.
‘Green Room‘ seems to understand its limitations in terms of scale, cast and setting but in terms of compensating for those limitations with well-written dialogue or characters with any sort of personality it feels like director/writer Jeremy Saulnier just went for the absolute bare-minimum. The actors have talent but there’s nothing on a script-level for them to work with especially Patrick Stewart who is all dressed up with nowhere to go, the structure feels limp and safe and the much-touted gore feels weak and too muted for shock value. ‘Green Room‘ is just too safe and lifeless to get worked up about. There’s nothing to hate about ‘Green Room‘, there’s just no reason to care or get invested in the fate of “The Ain’t Rights” even if they are fighting some of the easiest-to-hate antagonists in history.
I give ‘Green Room‘ 2 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 19th May 16