Sunday, April 17, 2016

Review: Green Room

Image courtesy of A24.
Jeremy Saulnier's latest low budget thriller is an example of a film that I can admire for the obvious skill on display, while at the same time not being completely thrilled about its content. "Green Room" is a tense, mostly well made film that combines elements of horror, action and music - all fairly well - and yet it's also off putting in its devotion to depicting all manner of violence against the human body.

The director's previous feature was "Blue Ruin," a solid, micro-budget thriller about a guy who carries out an act of revenge, only to see his life spiral out of control when it sets off a chain reaction. "Green Room," which also features a chain reaction of sorts, tells the story of a hardcore punk band who gets a gig at a creepy, backwoods venue run by neo-Nazi skinheads and a particularly ruthless leader known as Darcy (Patrick Stewart).

For starters, one of the stranger elements of "Green Room" is how it depicts the world of hardcore punk rock. Full disclosure: while I'm an avid fan of everyone from the Sex Pistols to Richard Hell and the Voidoids, I'm mostly in the dark when it comes to hardcore. But it would seem to me that Saulnier has little love for the genre, which he portrays as mostly violent, not-so-casually racist and very, very angry.

When one of the bandmates witnesses the murder of a girl at the club, the group tries to split, but ends up being imprisoned in a locked room with a skinhead brandishing a gun. After they manage to get ahold of the weapon, the band tries to bargain with Darcy and his band of "red boots" - a group of skin head followers - and things quickly go south. So far, so good.

But once the violence is unleashed - and, boy, is it unleashed - things quickly go south for the film itself. Look, many films that I adore - from the bloodbaths of Quentin Tarantino to the splattery horror pictures of the 1970s and 1980s - feature violence. But it's all about how it's used.

In "Green Room," a man is choked to death before having his stomach sliced open with a box cutter. A guy's hand is left dangling after nearly being torn off by a dog. Another character's throat is torn out by the same dog. And another girl is later mauled by the same damn dog. A guy's cheek is blown off by a shotgun. A machete meets a neck. A knife is sticking out of the side of a girl's head and, for no effect other than to repulse, it's later removed and a fountain of blood spurts out. Multiple people are shot in the head and neck in startling close-up.

The only bit of levity in the picture is a running joke involving which acts the group members would pick as their desert island band. It makes for an amusing - and much needed - humorous payoff late in the film.

So, while I can admire the talent behind the camera here, it's hard to become invested in the material - first, because the characters' primary purpose is to be ground up like so much meat, rather than actually being developed and, second, because the grinding of that meat is gratuitously depicted. "Green Room" is well-shot and often intense, but a fairly unpleasant experience. It's not a bad film, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Saulnier certainly has ability, so I'm hoping that next time his talents are put to better use.

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