Not until I started watching Green Room, did I realize that Jeremy Saulnier, the writer/director, had previously made Blue Ruin, a movie that started out pretty good, but then became much less interesting as the story went on. I think it was around the time towards the end of Act 1 when the actor Macon Blair (who played the protagonist in Blue Ruin) appeared. Up to that point in Green Room, the story was okay, but felt poorly paced. I think a lot of this was to do with what I knew in advance of the story, and my expectations for it moving in that direction.
I liked the first act, thought it introduced the characters okay, but I admit, I didn’t think I was watching a “punk” band here at all, and that became a real issue for me in the first act. The four millennial-age band members … yeah, I’m thinking kiddie punk like Blink 182 or Green Day. I never got a sense whatsoever that these guys were anything other than radio-friendly, edgy-in-the-90s standard, road-tested musicians. Sure, they go around with all their equipment in a conversion van, but from how the characters look and were written, I only really felt they were hopping from one parents’ basement to another between gigs. They come off as completely inauthentic for the kind of characters they’re supposed to be. The main protagonist here, played by the late Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Fright Night) mutters some purist mumbo jumbo early on about why they don’t have a social media presence, but that struck me as just the words of a writer (as well as it being a telegraphing plot device), not the actual thoughts and feelings of this particular character – given that we live in a world dominated by social media, it was way too unbelievable that all three other bandmates would share this. They want to tour the country playing music, but hate being broke (they siphon fuel from parked cars – that’s how broke they are), but refuse to promote themselves? I absolutely couldn’t buy this at all.
In fact, there are a few things in Green Room that are tough to swallow in terms of plot and motivation – like, when they travel into the heart of this remote Pacific Northwest Neo-Nazi bar to play their gig and don’t express much misgivings at all? This is the band that plays at your local alternative joint to college bros and chicks, and they’re NOT Shitting bricks in THIS place? This would have been the right time to make the audience realize that this is a quartet of wannabees totally out of their depth here, but so desperately need the money that they know they have to play it. Either that, or Saulnier should have made them a true punk band – hard as nails, with the same don’t-fuck-with-me attitude as the same skinheads they were going to be playing for. But no, there’s very little trepidation expressed here, even when one of the band members gets grabbed by the throat and threatened as soon as they get out of the van!
Inside, once they get started, there’s this seriously odd choice by Saulnier to show the audience members moshing in slow motion to a somewhat gentle musical accompaniment. It’s a real head-scratcher. The point of this bar scene, surely, is to ramp up the tension by showing how hostile the place is, but if there was some other point buried in that decision, I guess I need it to be explained to me. Fortunately, right after that, at the beginning of act 2, the movie picks up and remains relatively tense and gripping for the most part, with some wince-worthy gore effects as the actual premise of the movie begins to unspool.
Which all sounds good, except that I had some big issues with the writing throughout this. I didn’t really understand the point of a gun being turned over by someone, I didn’t really understand why things didn’t escalate on the part of the Neo Nazis REALLY quickly, I didn’t get why there was no drive to use as much manpower as possible to get the job done quickly. I didn’t get the point of showing someone with a major injury acting as if the injury was very minor. It’s only a major injury in terms of the visuals, yet somehow not in terms of plot, but when you see it, yeah, that’s a major injury. I also hate stories that are structured in such a manner where locations are revisited throughout the story, in this case, the titular green room. Scenes like that are backward steps in plot progression, and here I get WHY the characters are doing it, but the writing should have been sharp enough that they didn’t HAVE to do it.
I think my biggest issue with the movie, however, was the casting of Patrick Stewart (the Star Trek, and X-Men franchises) as the leader of the Neo Nazis. That was a big bucket of nope for me. I like Stewart, and it isn’t like I can only see him as Picard or Xavier – it’s just that the character wasn’t dynamic enough, not threatening enough, and Stewart brings nothing to the table here. It’s like everyone around him is a Big Bad, except him. This guy should have been the Negan or Governor of the movie (The Walking Dead is the only thing I could come up with, sorry. But it works, sooooo), but he’s way too reserved or restrained and every time he appears, more air gets let out of the balloon.
It seems like I didn’t like the movie, but I mostly did. There’s a distinct lack of depth here, and it plays more like your typical Dwindling Party story, where you don’t care so much about the characters as you do about who the next one to die is, and how it will happen. The violence in the movie is good, and it goes a long way to reinforcing the high stakes involved in surviving, and while the ending feels a bit half-baked to me, it’s cathartic and satisfying enough that it’s unfair to criticize it too much. In the hands of, say, Eli Roth – a moviemaker I don’t actually like too much – Green Room might have become a nihilistic genre classic, but Jeremy Saulnier only really seems like he’s playing with the toys of the exploitation movie genre, not fully committing.
© Andrew Hope, 2016