Saturday, April 23, 2016
Been filled with thoughts recently about the art of the magic trick, misdirection, and how crafty one can be when talking a premise to a film, versus how one executes it. How we the audience an be played toward looking at the hat when we should be looking elsewhere, never being fully sure where the rabbit truly was, nibbling comfortably before being revealed. Suddenly, expectations are thwarted by the appearance of a dove. Nary a hint was given. We expected a rabbit, but received something else. We never saw it coming. This is exactly how I've been feeling about the new Jeremy Saulnier film. With Green Room, we are not only in the realm of a director who cares about payoff, we are in the presence of a refreshing new turn in how to subvert.
Somewhere, in the Pacific Northwest, traveling punk rock outfit the Ain't Rights have been living the gig to gig dream. As expressed in an interview with a local college rock reporter, they have no social media presence due to a deep love with connection. A romance for being present. But this also comes at the expected price; barely surviving, siphoning gasoline from parked vehicles, playing family mexican restaurants for a few bucks, not knowing where the next burrito meal will come. And due to a communications flub, the Ain't Rights are cornered into taking a gig deep into the rural Oregon wilderness. A roadhouse largely known to be hard right wing skin territory. Largely unfettered by the possibility, and ready to do anything to keep moving, the band agrees. Having done shows with skinheads in attendance before, their belief in the music grants them the confidence to veer in for a short set. All seems to go well, then the band's lead guitarist, Pat (Anton Yelchin) opts to tempt the lion by way of a Dead Kennedys cover that states in no uncertain terms, their relationship with the crowd. But it's what occurs after that lands Pat, Sam(Alia Shawkat), Tiger(Callum Turner), and Reece(Joe Cole) trapped in the venue's green room, without means of communicating with the outside world, with a human corpse on the floor, and possibly armies of violent zealots aching to protect their isolated universe.
Now siege films have been the stuff of classic genre and grindhouse fare for decades. (Many of personal favorite, John Carpenter's films being iconic examples.) And many of us are pretty savvy on how these tend to work. "Survive the night". But what Jeremy Saulnier and his team concoct with Green Room, feels every bit as intelligent and painful as what they had achieved with Blue Ruin. By taking the most sober approach, the film becomes one Rube Goldberg experience in mounting suspense and payoff that is wholly rare. And the greatest magic trick pulled within the film, is in how secure we are made before everything goes to hell. The love of the vagabond band, and life on the road is given enough time and sensitivity for viewers to realize how close knit Ain't Rights are are a unit. We are granted a pretty good idea of how they operate, joke, and bounce off each other. So when Pat reveals himself to be akin to many punks I grew up around; quiet, but occasionally plucky, we may not agree, but feel some empathic connection, as with everyone else. So when the tide begins to reach uncomfortable depths, we are not only along for the ride, we are suffering with them. It is a brutal turn this film takes, and it does so without the usual sentimental language the genre often insists on. So we're left to our imaginations to fill in the horrible blanks that are scattered about. We find ourselves as viewers as desperate and terrorized. And we are with them all the way when the tide begins to turn in their favor. The siege film is returned to the hands of directorial intent, to place us there, to have us absorb the predicament, and for us to seek a way out, no matter how dire it all seems.
And dire it becomes.
Soon, Gabe(Macon Blair, in a terrific put-upon performance) has to call in the roadhouse's owner, Darcy (Patrick Stewart) for damage control. And it is within the mind of Darcy, that we begin to fully understand how bad it is for our heroes. A quiet, fatherlike, and truly smart leader figure to what looks to be an army of angry youth living in the woods, Darcy plans to make sure the whole fracas is brought to a close, and that the Ain't Rights are as guilty, as they are dead. Just another roadside murder. Bringing down potential "Red Laces" to the location, things have reached fever pitch, while inside, the band is trapped with Amber(Imogen Poots), a strange girl who was witness to the inciting incident, and bouncer, Big Justin(Eric Edelstein). Darcy, with his age and intelligence, only seems ready to lay down so many young men for his cause, that it ultimately becomes less a black and white narrative, but a grueling treatise on how the disenfranchised could eat their own if not tended to.
With matters reaching almost unbearable levels, both parties find themselves in a situation far more than clean and easy. Saulnier makes sure we realize just how the simplest choices could have dire consequences for all involved. There is an unshakeable feeling throughout that so much could have been avoided had pride not been allowed to dictate a few brief moments. And choices like these are what fuel so much of Green Room. It makes the whole of the piece so singular, it becomes a social event. It's one hell of a ride. Not to mention, one of the most effective windows into the punk world I grew up in translated onto film. Thankfully, I've never witnessed anything as horrific or traumatic as what happens here. But I can say that for being a disillusioned kid, Green Room strikes home in a huge way. And considering where our national fabric is at the moment, it couldn't have come at a better time.