Friday, April 29, 2016

In Theaters: GREEN ROOM (2016)

(US - 2016)

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier. Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Macon Blair,  Eric Edelstein, Mark Webber, Kai Lennox, Brent Werzner, David W. Thompson, Jake Love, Kyle Love, Samuel Summer. (R, 95 mins)

Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier established himself as filmmaker to watch after 2014's gritty revenge noir BLUE RUIN and his latest film, GREEN ROOM, finds him putting his characters in even more dangerous territory with grim and horrifying results. The Ain't Rights--bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat), frontman Tiger (Callum Turner) and drummer Reece (Joe Cole)--are a small-time, Richmond-based punk band touring the Pacific Northwest in a beat-up van and getting from gig to gig by siphoning gas. When their next show is abruptly cancelled and they're out of money, local zine writer and Ain't Rights superfan Tad (David W. Thompson) hooks them up with a show in the rural outskirts of Portland where his cousin Daniel (Mark Webber) is a bouncer. He warns them that there's a catch: the gig's at the clubhouse of a neo-Nazi stronghold owned by a group of white supremacists who don't take to The Ain't Rights kicking off their show with a cover of Dead Kennedys' "Nazi Punks Fuck Off." The band play their set and get paid and are packing up their gear to make way for the death metal house band Cowcatcher when Pat goes back to the dressing room to get Sam's phone and finds members of Cowcatcher and bouncer Werm (Brent Werzner) standing over a dead girl with a knife planted in her skull. Bouncer Gabe (Macon Blair, the star of BLUE RUIN) tries to contain the situation after Pat calls 911 to report a stabbing and has the phone taken from him as the rest of the bouncers refuse to let them go, with Gabe politely explaining "We're not keeping you...you're just staying." Gabe and club manager Clark (Kai Lennox) try to contain the situation by having two new recruits stage a stabbing outside in order to get rid of the cops, but when the band gets the edge on bouncer Big Justin (Eric Edelstein), grabbing his gun and barricading themselves in the room, Gabe has no choice but to call owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart), who takes charge and immediately decides the band will have to be eliminated and it has to look like an accident.

One of the more memorable things about BLUE RUIN was the way Blair's hapless, homeless hero tried to be a tough guy but had no idea how to handle any kind of weapon. That's a similar motif that pops up here as the dwindling number of Ain't Rights, accompanied by the dead girl's friend Amber (Imogen Poots), aren't really adept at handling guns and end up resorting to other means at their disposal, like box cutters, machetes, fire extinguishers, mic stands, etc, as Darcy keeps sending his guys into the club to deal with them. It's a survival/siege movie in the classic John Carpenter style (there is a synthy score, but it's very subtle, a surprise given the Carpenter score homages so prevalent in genre fare these days), and Saulnier does a great job of capturing that sense of bleak, claustrophobic hopelessness as the situation gets worse by the minute in one of the scariest clubs you'll see in any movie. Early attempts to run out of the club fail miserably as Darcy has guys waiting behind the door of every room they pass, and even breaking through the floor to Darcy's basement storage area for his cash and the neo-Nazis' heroin business fails to lead them to a way out. The Ain't Rights have no choice but to fight their way out and the results are gruesome and hard to watch. Even the most seasoned gorehound will have a tough time withstanding what happens to Pat's left hand, and when they're forced to work with what's available, a box cutter will certainly disembowel someone or slit a throat. But it's tough-going, and Saulnier assaults you with it so quickly that you don't have a chance to look away.

The Ain't Rights are generally OK, though other than Yelchin, they don't really have much to do but be frantic and try to survive. Outsider Amber is the toughest of the bunch--and she's not with the neo-Nazis but has a specific reason for being there--but even before she's injured, Poots' performance is overly affected and off-putting, almost like she's speaking at half-speed for no reason. She's the major misstep in GREEN ROOM, as Amber is a character who's a fierce, independent badass but Poots is playing her like a tranquilized Aubrey Plaza. The real revelation here is Patrick Stewart like you've never seen him before. Stewart is all calm, soft-spoken menace as the malevolent Darcy, doing whatever he can to keep the cops away from a situation that's spiraling out of control thanks to the resourceful nature of prey he's drastically underestimated ("They're smarter than you!" he shouts at Gabe in his one moment of losing his cool). Stewart is such a beloved, iconic figure that it's hard to get by him playing such a despicable character who says some things it's hard to imagine Patrick Stewart saying, but he makes it work by not overdoing it. Darcy isn't a raving maniac. In fact, he seems oddly detached at times, almost like he just assumes the situation will work itself out, even as more and more of his guys go inside to kill the Ain't Rights but don't come back out. Stewart underplays Darcy, a charismatic leader who can blend into society and be a nice guy on the surface, which makes his being a cold-blooded killer, heroin trafficker, and unapologetic racist and anti-Semite all the more chilling. Like many close-quartered, powderkeg nerve-shredders of this sort, GREEN ROOM works perfectly (Poots' terrible performance aside) until it goes outside, leaving the compound for a conclusion that seems abrupt and a bit unsatisfying given the buildup. Still, for 90% of its duration, it's a bold, brutal, stone cold piece of work, sickeningly violent in all its extreme, hard-R glory and unrelentingly intense in its execution.

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