Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room” opened at theaters everywhere today and will surely be on my best five films of 2016 when NYFCO’s awards meeting convenes in December. Saulnier was the director of “Blue Ruin”, a 2014 film that led me to nominate Saulnier as best new director that year. Like “Blue Ruin”, “Green Room” is an ultraviolent art film that puts Quentin Tarantino to shame. Like his feckless “The Hateful Eight”, Saulnier’s film takes place in a confined space, even more constricted than Tarantino’s blizzard-besieged cabin. It is the proverbial green room, a place you have probably heard mentioned on late night talk shows where a guest hangs out until it is time for them to go sit on the sofa next to Johnny or Dave or whoever.
The green room in Saulnier’s film is in the basement of a music club in rural Oregon owned by a neo-Nazi named Darcy Banker played by Patrick Stewart in an obviously outrageous bid at casting against type. I can’t say that it is entirely successful since Stewart is just a bit too familiar from Star Trek and the X-Men films. If you had never seen him before, that’s not a problem but the role would have been ideal for someone like Dennis Hopper or Michael Shannon quite frankly.
In between sets, the film’s good guys hang out waiting to be called on stage. They are members of a punk rock band called the Ain’t Rights that has seen better days. They travel around in a beat up van and often resort to siphoning gas from cars they stake out in strip mall parking lots. When the mohawked promoter who signed them up for their last gig is remorseful over the paltry proceeds, barely enough money to buy a tankful of gas and lunch at Burger King, he tries to make amends by lining them up another gig at the neo-Nazi hangout. The pay is good ($350), but he advises them not to talk politics.
Upon arrival, they are escorted to the green room by a guy who looks like a member of the type of groups Morris Dees exposes for a living. Once they settle in, they figure out that they are in enemy territory. There is a big confederate flag on the wall and Nazi regalia all around the room. Since they are punks, they are not the type to rein in their beliefs. The first number they perform once they get on stage is the Dead Kennedys anthem “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”:
Nazi punks fuck off
You still think Swastikas look cool
The real Nazis run your schools
Theyre coaches, businessmen and cops
In a real fourth Reich you’ll be the first to go
The audience does not quite storm the stage but probably would if such songs continued. Showing a willingness to play to the crowd, our musicians continue with less provocative material.
After the set is over, they return to the room and are shocked to see a dead woman sprawled on the floor with a knife sticking out of her skull. Standing over the dead woman is her friend and the man who likely killed her. Expecting the cops to come and sort things out, the band members stick around for the time being, a decision firmed up by a hulking member of Darcy Banker’s entourage who trains a nasty looking pistol on them, ordering them to stay put. Eventually they learn that Banker and his henchman have plans to kill them as well since they are witnesses to a crime of passion carried out by one of his gang members.
As the band members begin to figure out that they are dead meat, they lock the door and barricade it from the neo-Nazis assembling in the hallway. The rest of the film consists of action inside the green room and the club involving guns, knives, iron bars, fluorescent light fixtures, fire extinguishers, killer dogs, mike stands, and just about everything else up to the kitchen sink. As such the film is less about the clash between anarchists and reactionaries than it is about survival against overwhelming odds. Ultimately “Green Room” is much more like an episode of “The Walking Dead” but directed by Akira Kurosawa or Sam Peckinpah than a didactic bid to save the world.
Pure escapism and not to be missed.