Friday, April 29, 2016

Jeremy Saulnier's GREEN ROOM

A brief aside, but it will come back into the movie GREEN ROOM.  Going back around from when I was 13/14 for another ten years, I hung out with a couple of local friends - one of which I went to school with for a couple of years before he transferred, but we stayed close over high school years when I had very few friends.  We'd hang out, smoke dope, play some really bad punk rock (either on the record or, with him on bass and me on drums and his brother occasionally on guitar), and then watch some movies.  The movies tended to fit our don't-give-a-shit milieu and they'd usually be the raw-violent sort - samurai flicks, mature anime, zombie and horror flicks, Tarantino, other action fare - and one of the movies we watched more than once as I can recall was Romper Stomper.

For those who may not recall, that was Russell Crowe's breakout, but it was also about the world of punk rockers... nazi-skin-head punk rockers in Australia no less.  It was a complicated kind of movie since technically the skin-heads were the, uh, "good" guys (though not really, the story was kind of a love triangle that completely falls apart in the wake of the skin-heads being roasted by a bunch of Asian-islanders out to get them).  I thought of this movie while checking out Jeremy Saulnier's third film as director, Green Room, where a siege takes place involving a small-time punk rock band who perform (out of desperation for money and gigs) at a neo-nazi club on the outskirts of Oregon and see something they really shouldn't have seen.

Saulnier makes no bones about what he thinks of the nazis here, and his main characters in the band the "Ain't Rights" (including people like Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat, the latter was Maybe on Arrested Development) perform as their first number on stage - as Yelchin says "I got a stupid idea" - the Dead Kennedy's "NAZI PUNKS FUCK OFF."  Considering the mood of the place they're lucky to even make it out of that.  But when they see a dead body in the 'green room' (also an analogy, I'm sure, with the color green being sickness and being a little too, uh, fresh in this environment), they aren't getting out without a struggle.

It's very easy to make a movie like this, in a way.  Movies involving home invasions, which this shares some DNA with, or sieges (think of The Purge or, if going way back, Straw Dogs), can be really violent, but the issue comes with characters who don't act smart, or that the writers and/or director don't flesh out enough.  Hey, who needs development or empathy with the heroes, they're fine, let's focus on the gore.

But Saulnier doesn't work like that, and there's an intense identification with the main characters here; they're burn-outs and probably won't 'make it', but that's no on their mind.  They're likeable though, and have some good atttude behind them in the environment they're in - again, throughout the movie they don't take many stupid pills, and only near the end is there a certain hyped up 'style' to how a couple of characters make the game - so that when the shit hits the fan, we're with them and want to see them get out.  It shouldn't be so rare to care so much about the characters' fates, especially when no hope is the name of the game, but it usually is in cinemas.

If that's even possible of course in the midst of Saulnier's nihilistic vision.  This is a nasty piece of work, but Green Room boasts quality in its acting across the board - of course Stewart is intense as fuck, and compelling because of how much he thinks ahead with everything, like an accountant tallying up figures when it's really about bodies and blood waste and disposing of evidence/making a crime scene, the kind of controlled evil that probably would've made this character an exemplary Nazi in WW2, and also Macon Blair (the lead from Blue Ruin) who is his sort of right hand man.  This latter part is my one minor question, not even a criticism, with Blair's character: how does he see this situation?  Is he that loyal, or how does he think about this ultra-violent, ugly situation breaking down the punk band locking themselves in the room (and getting slaughtered trying to get out, usually by maniacal dog)?  It's not totally clear, or if it was then I didn't see it so much on a first viewing.

Maybe Green Room really does necessitate seeing it over and over again; aside from the rewatchability of it, there's some clever thematic touches going on underneath the doom and gloom.  What happens when you're trapped in hell?  What happens when you're stuck in an indifferent hellscape?  Do you claw your way our, or make it more about the 'play' of it to make things a little more on an even keel for the non-nazi psychopaths?  And these aren't "movie" characters, they're real people who feel all the harrowing pain here. 

This is a violent movie, but Saulnier doesn't linger so long on bloody entrails and flesh, rather it's about the after-effects, how seeing someone's stomach ripped open by a box-cutter or a wrist that's been practically ripped off the bone is nasty because of who we are seeing it happen to and how others react.  I mean... fuck, man.

Green Room has layers that I hope to see more of on extra viewings, but on just one I can say that it's intense but well-paced (there's time for some dialog so that not everything is breakneck), and soulful as far as capturing the environment these characters are in.   There's logic to how everyone acts, including the initial 'we just want this to work out' thing (no one's looking to be violent at the start of the day, unlike the Romper Stomper characters), and because of this you can't predict a second of it.  Like Assault on Precinct 13, which this is offpspring of, sadism is like another character, but in its way so is heroism in that bad-ass way.  You look to those qualities to make one vs the other side, and it's more of a scary thriller than it is a hardcore horror movie (albeit the sight of the villains all on one side resemble the living dead of a Romero movie). 

It's clear Saulnier has a great career ahead of him as a pulp artist.  I wish I could go back in time to add this to my repertoire of high school/college stoner-punk-metal take-no-shit movies.

oh, and this: