Monday, May 2, 2016

Green Room (2016)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Notable Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart, Macon Blair, Mark Webber, Taylor Tunes, Eric Edelstein

Like most people that I’ve spoken with, my introduction to writer and director Jeremy Saulnier came with his critically acclaimed 2013 film Blue Ruin. While not directly horror in many regards, that film certainly left its mark in many ways and Saulnier almost instantly became one of the freshest voices in genre filmmaking. The film was so strong and so critically hailed that his follow up was almost guaranteed to be a film that met the unblinking and judging eyes of both critics and fans alike. So in a way, his latest film Green Room is going to disappoint on some level if it didn’t meet the sheer power and execution of Blue Ruin. To be upfront, it doesn’t and it’s hard to say that on some level I wasn’t slightly let down by Green Room too thanks to the lofty expectations I had going in. On the flip side though, the film is still a very effective and brutal horror thriller filled with tight tension and shockingly concussive twists that is going to please all genre fans on some level.

Pat (Yelchin) and his small punk band are all about the art of playing live. They refuse to have social media presence and rely on a network of fans and underground music lovers to help them book shows. When they end up playing at a bar owned and run by a close knit group of white supremacy believers and happen to see a murder on the premises, they will find themselves in a kill or be killed situation. not punk.
Green Room is going to be one of those genre films that sets a nice standard for artful cult cinema concepts throughout the rest of the year. At its core, it’s a grindhouse affair. Just the idea of a punk band that has to fight off a group of pissed off white supremacists just screams low budget exploitation and Green Room certainly owns up to its foundations with its bleak, gritty tones and off beat bits of dark humor that are sprinkled into the film. Hints of early John Carpenter influence, particularly from Assault on Precinct 13, are felt in the basic plotting of the film, while the dark and brutal violence that punctuates the intense sense of dread and tension move the film into horror territory from its thriller elements. The gore is impressively executed with realistic special effects and the film is never afraid to throw the audience for a loop with its kill order or shock tactics, relying on its subtle detailing to add the salt into fresh wounds of its terror focused intent. There are one or two moments in the film that come from playing on the audiences expectations of the genre that work with fantastic effect which shows just how well Saulnier knows the genre he is using his films to explore.

The one issue that arises from Green Room to prevent it from hitting the near perfect marks of Blue Ruin is the lacking connection the protagonists have with the audience. There are a lot of quirky elements at play to give them a more humanizing presence, including a game of ‘desert island band’ that comes back as a thread that really adds some nice depth to the film, but ultimately they still feel a bit too gimmicky and bland to be as relatable to the audience as they needed to be for the biggest emotional impact as shit hits the fan in the later acts. Pat, played by Yelchin who is seemingly making a huge mark on modern off beat film, gets the most depth, but his bandmates suffer from horror film clich├ęs and are seemingly broad stroke characters meant for a bigger body count. At times the villains of the film come off as much more fascinating characters to explore instead of the people we are meant to root for. This might be one of the film’s best and worst aspects as it leaves the audience feeling a bit disconnected, but curious.

He's gunning for kill. Get it? Cause...yeah. Just go with it.
Still, Green Room is an impressively executed horror thriller worthy of fans of the darker genres. It’s brutal in its intensity and violence, but sparks enough of a smart writing style to give the film a strong artful embrace that lifts it above just being another modern grindhouse film. There are moments when it strikes a great balance between being smart, slick, and vicious that harkens back to the French extreme cinema movement just a decade or so ago. It’s just unfortunate that it will always end up being compared to Saulnier’s brilliant Blue Ruin as it doesn’t quite hit the emotional strides of that film. In the end though, Green Room is going to be one of the best horror films that drops this year and it comes with a very intense recommendation.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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