13 May 2016

Green Room review

There can't be many people who have seen Blue Ruin and don't class director Jeremy Saulnier as one the most promising up-and-coming directors right now. It's a fair assessment; Blue Ruin is nothing short of a minor masterpiece, an incredibly well-made examination of the nature of revenge that instantly marked Saulnier (and his distinctively grounded, melancholic style) as one to keep an eye on. It's a film that exists firmly in the grey area of morality - one of it's many strengths - but Saulnier's follow up to that is as black and white as it gets.

Green Room follows touring punk rock band The Ain't Rights as they reluctantly agree to play a gig at a Neo-Nazi club after learning that the gig they were meant to play has been cancelled, leaving them broke with no other options. Despite opening up with a deliberately antagonistic cover of The Dead Kennedys "Nazi Punks, Fuck Off", everything is going well until they end up becoming unwilling witnesses to a murder that the Neo-Nazis want to cover up. Trapped in the titular green room, it's now up to The Ain't Rights to figure a way out of this mess before they are hacked to pieces by skinheads.

Green Room proves Saulnier to in fact be not just a promising director but one who is already well-accomplished. Blue Ruin was no fluke; here we have a movie that maintains Saulnier's aforementioned distinctive style despite being radically different in basically every other way. It's may not be as thought-provoking as Blue Ruin, but that's OK when what it loses in contemplation is more than made up for by it's ability to build tension.

And holy hell, can Green Room build tension. It's a masterclass in suspense, a How-To guide for keeping an audience on the edge of their seats, and it does that by ensuring that we never stay still for very long. There is always something just about to shake things up, and Green Room's deliberate choice to let us know - or at least, think we know - what might be about to happen next only makes the situation more unbearably stressful. Alfred Hitchcock once said that the difference between suspense and surprise is simply having the audience know what the characters want to know, and it certainly feels like Green Room runs with that notion in a big way, favouring agonising suspense over sudden surprise almost every time.

And like in Blue Ruin, there is a realism to the world and characters of Green Room that creates a constant sense of vulnerability. The Ain't Rights are nothing more than a bunch of kids way out of their depth, totally unprepared for the situation they are in and lacking any of the skills someone might need to cope - so naturally, death comes quickly and easily, often the result of nothing more than a wrong move or a bit of bad luck. By highlighting how thin the line between life and death is, Saulnier manages to do what the vast majority of films cannot - create a feeling that no matter which character we are looking at, they are in very, very real danger.

And ultimately, that's why Green Room is as effective as it is. Even if some of these characters aren't quite as well-developed as they could be, there is a reality to them that makes you care about them all the same, one that makes their inevitable deaths feel not just disturbing but a genuine shame too. And Green Room may be gory (it certainly had me squirming), but it avoids lowering itself to the masochistic level of torture porn by refusing to celebrate death. Even when a Neo-Nazi is killed, there's no sense of victory - just another life lost for no real reason at all. Hell, Green Room may actually be the only horror film I've ever seen that seems sad to kill people off.

All of which means that, as I said earlier, Green Room proves Jeremy Saulnier to already be everything we thought he could one day be. There are many adjectives I could use at this point to describe Green Room - atmospheric, tense, engaging, efficient, tight, terrifying - but the one that seems most apt is simply the word "great". Because Green Room is just that at the end of that day, a great movie that is sure to impress.

And, y'know, it's got Sir Patrick Stewart playing a ruthless Neo-Nazi. What more could you ask for?

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