Monday, 19 September 2016

Green Room review

I got a chance (a little late, perhaps) to see Saulniers new art-house/blockbuster crossover action film, moving down the rainbow and up on the violence from Blue Ruin. Check out my thoughts after the jump...

Movie people, what is with preview timings?! Every single goddamn preview for a decent film appears to be on a Monday Night, which I can't do as I'm at work, or a Sunday morning, which I usually can't do as I'm at work. Grr. So I missed around 4 or 5 screenings for this damn film, which I really (and I mean really) wanted to friggin see! Usually I end up at meh chick-flicks and big blockbusters, but the times at which an awesome ride like this comes along, for some reason the stars just don't align. Alas, due to some sort of cosmic train of inconvenience, I was even unable to catch it on opening week, let alone opening night... so two weeks after it hit the silver screen, I dashed along to my beloved Cameo to catch it while I still could. And, lo and behold, a rush of vital important activity prevented me from writing this review for almost a whole month...

At least it's in time for the DVD release.

Don't we all love a good high concept movie? It's what both standard Hollywood fare and daringly original productions thrive on. For instance, take Jaws: men on a boat fight a shark. Or Alien: people on a ship fight an alien. Two simple yet similar high concepts, two incredible films. The same could be said for Green Room: the merry band of misfits replaced by a miserable band of misfits; punk rockers the 'Ain't Rights'. The elephant/great white/queen alien in the room? Patrick Stewart. And the (space)ship? The titular Green Room. Except this time there are dozens of xenomorphs and tiger sharks to go round, with a whole host of vicious Neo Nazi's to fight off before the boss level as it were. And thus, we have the high concept of Green Room - markedly similar to much of the past, but with the potential to be executed to perfection. And executed really is the key here.

Such is the buzz surrounding Green Room that the retro comparison is further justified. For one, the sensationalist warnings are out in the fore: 'The film that has made people faint'.... 'too shocking for a BBFC classification'...... 'the most violent film'..... etc. etc. It's the modern equivalent of 'you'd better not watch it alone', or 'keep telling yourself it's only a movie', or any of the ingenious posters for the Exorcist that were floating around at the time of it's release. Are these comparisons justified? I suppose to a degree, yes, but as is the nature with all films in the shocking bracket, our 21st Century life has handily desensitised us to cinematic violence, language, sex, and the like... so pushing the boat far enough out to actually shock people involves making a Serbian Film.

Nobody wants to see a Serbian Film.

Don't see a Serbian Film.


A nice exploration of the punk scene.
This is about the furthest Saulnier can reach out before it becomes bad taste. There is, roughly, a story that carries the movie to it's inevitably sticky end - and a story that once again harks back to refreshingly basic plot touchstones of the past. This is no Batman v. Superman, believe it or not, and nobody will ever complain of not having understood the plot... Impoverished punk band The Ain't Right's agree to do a questionable gig for the 'boots and braces crowd' at a secluded backwoods venue. Naturally, there is an apprehensive feel to these proceedings - but the band need money so bad that the potential risks are outweighed by the quick fix of cash.Unfortunately, the risks don't pay off when the group accidentally witness the aftermath of a vicious murder and become liabilities themselves. To make matters worse, they've locked themselves into the venues green room (yes, I know it's the title) which is surrounded by a group of loyal swastika-clad types led by a sinister career-first performance from the magnetic Patrick Stewart. The remainder of the tightly-wound and masterfully cut picture revolves solely around the escape of the Ain't Rights from the venue before they get killed.

From early on, Saulnier does all the things that Saulnier has proved he can do well. Like. Really. Fucking. Well. Firstly, the tension. Instantly, the Friday the 13th pheromones hover in the mist of the woods as our merry band of miserable travelers arrive at the Nazi retreat. Here, a mere slip of the tongue can mean extreme violence and quite possibly death. Of course, upon discovering the body and becoming locked in a room with enclosing gangs of extremists (naturally armed to the teeth), that tension ramps itself up even further - and then maintains itself at that level as the band attempt to escape and are gradually cut down by the crazies. Not that they don't give it their best shot... (more on that shortly). This level of relentless tension matches Blue Ruin in every respect, and also in tonality - given Ruin's final scenes in an abandoned house.

Brexiters. Oh shit... erm.... sorry, I mean Neo-nazis...
Secondly, the visual splendor. Saulnier coloured Blue Ruin in electric neon shades, with a particularly incredible scene set inside a fairground ride (later sadly removed) showcasing his talent for framing. Likewise, with Green Room, everything is bright, garish, and 70s exploitation in coloration. It adds immensely to the idea of the film as some kind of sensory overload, and indeed as a jolt of adrenaline - or a house of horrors. There's an excellent level of set design in the alt-right club, and then as the lights are turned off, Saulnier prioritizes the most confrontational colors - cyan, lime green, magenta, red - in combination with an oppressive black to create a cool 'Demons'-like feel to the proceedings. You know what else feels like 'Demons?'

The violence.

Hints of violence...
Much is made about Saulnier's ability to portray violence unlike any other director at the moment, and there's a whole lot of truth in that statement. Ben Wheatley once remarked that what makes an audience wince are the small things: stubbing a toe, breaking a finger etc. These are experiences we can all really relate to, and large scale carnage is something we've been desensitised from. For this reason, Saulnier hits a home run, by making his attacks really quite.... specific and relatable. For instance, early on in the carnage, a character's hand is trapped in a door and then hacked by a machete. When his had emerges back through the door, it flops down, hanging on one limp piece of flesh. It's shocking and painful to look at precisely because it's small-scale and relatable: cutting/breaking fingers is something that people do. But also, what helps the effectiveness, is the Cronenberg devotion to so called 'moral violence'. Saulnier would likely reason that Nicolas Winding Refn's violence constitutes as immoral, given that it has a build up, and a fetishistic pay off ('Violence is a bit like fucking' Refn once remarked at 7am on BBC Breakfast... ouch). He, on the other hand, features no build up, and the violence isn't lingered on upon screen. Instead it is incredibly sudden, disgustingly devastating, and honestly frank. And just as quick as it appears, it's gone offscreen. This approach makes it so much more effective and realistic than common Hollywood interpretations of fisticuffs: hence the wincing in the screening. Duct tape applied to a deep cut is far more shocking than a spectacular explosion that presumably kills hundreds. Seriously, if you get a chance to see this in the cinema sometime, do it: people actually shout and make audible distress noises at the violence - it's quite something to see.

Patrick Stewart in his awesome role.
So, where are we at at this present moment? Green room is an awesome looking, incredibly violent shocker that has a crazy-cool retro presence. Nice. But there are indeed some other factors to consider in the race to decide the rating. Firstly, the acting. As I have said before, Patrick Stewart is operatically excellent as 'Darcy' - the head of the messed-up clan. He delivers his lines with an appropriate theatricality that carries a gravitas beyond words. Anton Yelchin provides another stunning performance as the lead. Tragically, as we all know, Yelchin died mere months after release - this being the perfect film to remember him by. But it cant help but add an unintentionally tragic air to the films mischievous madness that lasts until the final (very satisfying) punchline. And, last but not least, Imogen Poots provides a strong heroine-like performance, and undertakes a fascinating character transition from Nazi to hero in a very short runtime.

Another thing that Saulnier accomplishes particularly well is an authentic portrayal of both punk culture and neo-nazi culture. Slang is appropriately used throughout the picture by a director who was himself once a punk. For instance, the unsettling moment when Patrick Stewart announces that the job of taking the band out will be reserved 'for red laces only' is chilling in the same ambiguous way that the original Blair Witch was: what the audience doesn't know is far more frightening than what it does.

All in all, we have a very proficient pulp thriller. It's not exactly smart or intelligent, but the ingeniously simple high concept combined with beautifully garish surrounds will provide more than enough nasty fun for the tight runtime. Couple this with some of the most extreme and effective violence in recent memory, and nail-biting tension that edges on an uncomfortably oppressive shiftiness; and you have a surefire hit. We'll call it a cleanse... a film that takes the concept of cathartic violence to the very extreme, and will therefore provide a sickening, if satisfying, ride. Don't eat any fast food before you see this one... and don't expect to be able to finish your snacks, because Green Room is the cinematic equivalent of taking a combination of Krokodil and LSD, then banging your head against a wall until it explodes. Fun?

Green Room gets 4 stars!

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