Jeremy Saulnier is one more step towards mastering the grim and deadly. This is a director who pulls no punches and tells his stories with the intention to dishearten. We saw it with Blue Ruin, and we’re seeing it again with Green Room. It is the story of a punk band stuck in the titular room fending off a siege from a group of neo-Nazi skinheads after stumbling upon a murder. It’s a stark, mercilessly ultra-violent piece of work, but it lacks the storytelling discipline to support its savage antics.
Quickly and efficiently the narrative is set up, and we find Pat, Sam, Reece and Tiger, the members of the band ‘The Ain’t Rights,’ about to leave the venue, when Sam forgets her phone in the green room. What is a small moment to us turns out to be a devastating one for the characters as their fates change just like that, in an instant, with no power to stop it. It’s a terrifying circumstance that chillingly defines Green Room as a gritty nightmare one cannot escape from.
As soon as the green room becomes the centre point of the story, this nightmare is given a meticulous and lurid treatment. As promptly as the characters are set up, they are immediately and frenetically torn down, first psychologically then physically, with some characters truly experiencing the wrath of Patrick Stewart’s Darcey and his skinhead minions. It was all going good; the police were called by Pat, but then ingeniously diverted, leaving the characters sitting ducks unable to comprehend what lies beyond the four walls of the green room.
Neo-Nazi club-owner Darcey, played by the enchantingly unapproachable Stewart, stands in their way to freedom of course. Without assessing the situation entirely before he enters the picture, his first and only commands are to eliminate ‘The Ain’t Rights’. Evil is inherent within him and his colleagues; their tactics are ruthless, their murdering methods ghastly, and their head-space forthright. Not once do they let the truth of the situation sink in because they only have one thing on their minds… to the point of becoming quite one-dimensional. Ruthless, calculating, dangerous, supremacists, Hitler-worshipping… that’s it really. Other than seeking to slaughter a group of innocent musicians, they struggle to grow into more and lose their menacing hostility by the end. Stewart, the tyrannical headmaster, vanishes when it matters most, leaving his minions to complete the job ever so unexcitingly. What could have been a lethal end to a deadly night turns into a kill-them-all retaliatory spree hardly believable considering the state of things.
Throats ripped open, arms hacked to bits, faces blown away; the violence presented early on is enough to leave some of you feeling queasy, as the level of instantaneous damage can be too shocking to digest. Green Room is unapologetic when it comes to violence, truly living up to its potential by barbarically devolving into a carnal no-holds-barred onslaught. Ask Pat how his arm is doing, or just take a look at Reece’s back, Tiger’s throat, or even Big Justin’s belly! The film is tremendously cruel at times, bordering on torturous, but Green Room doesn’t care, it wants you to be stunned, then roll with the punches and leave the experience a hardened individual able to repel and overthrow a gang of murderous thugs. Well, that’s all I took from it… The rapid progress of Green Room catches the final section trying to claw back to the heights of the earlier devastation. After that, Darcey relents, leaving you questioning the entire concept of Green Room and whether the destruction was worth it. The film takes underwhelming turns when it could have kept its level of disturbance sky-high until the very end. When it’s gorily unraveling it electrifies, but when the violence takes a break, the characters are underwhelming, saying and doing the wrong things whilst horrifically undercutting the frenetic violence with contrived dialogue designed to confuse.
If Green Room had its characters liven up a bit when they talk, perhaps we’d like one of them, even root for them, but because this is only in theory, this is a film about a bunch of kids trying to outlast a night in supposed neo-Nazi pandemonium, and we couldn’t care less if they survived or not. Why? Because Green Room is trying, a bit too transparently, to be smart, to be art-house, when it really is just a sinister thriller unable to satisfy the common urges of its genre.
Green Room is not as memorable, profound or exciting as it thinks it is. The film has all the components, but without some sort of humanity to support them. It’s a dark experience, no light shines through, so we cannot identify with their survival when no one gives us a reason to. Green Room has horribly miscalculated the entire production, believing the unwavering depths of violence and impenetrable characters will absorb us, when in all honesty the fact that the protagonists struggle to make an impression means we were never attached to the film at all. You are shocked with disbelief, never attached, making the experience a redundant one… especially with an ending so underwhelming you begin to wonder if the night was even that deadly in the first place.
As unrepentantly gory, radically violent, and startlingly penetrating as it may be, the vicious nature of Green Room leaves you more shocked than absorbed.
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Images sourced from Green Room, A24.