VOD Review: Green Room.
Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin star in an unconventional horror film with a great second half.
While Sir Patrick Stewart is currently receiving accolades for reprising his Professor Xavier role in Logan, last year he was turning heads in a small horror film as a ruthless skinhead. We never got a chance to properly salute the career of Anton Yelchin, who passed away tragically last year. While best known for his portrayals of an alternate timeline Checkov in the modern Star Trek series of films, Yelchin was showing himself to be a young actor with range and versatility. His turn in Green Room is well worth a mention.
Green Room (2016)
The Ain’t Rights are a punk band struggling to make ends meet. When their latest gig is cancelled, they find themselves a long way from home and low on funds. Desperate, they take a last minute booking at a secluded dive bar out in the woods of Oregon, only to find that the bar is a headquarters for a violent group of Neo-Nazis. When the tension turns deadly, they wind up trapped in their dressing room with a dead body and a club full of angry skinheads, and a club owner (Patrick Stewart) who will do anything to make sure they never make it out alive.
One of the charms and frustrations of Green Room is that the film takes a long time revealing who our heroes will be. As a messy group of anarchists, the band doesn’t really have a power structure you can pin down, so you don’t know who to focus on. Add in the surviving members of another band muddying the waters, and we spend much of the run time bouncing between protagonists. At first, Reece (Joe Cole) seems to be the natural lead, since he’s brash but brave and takes charge. Events side-line him, and Pat (Anton Yelchin) reluctantly steps up…until he’s side-lined. From there, a free-wheeling survival by committee breaks out. It’s not until the smoke clears and the bodies begin to pile up that we get a sense that Pat and Amber (Imogen Poots, playing the surviving member of the second band) are really the heart of the story.
This approach has benefits: we get to see each character’s true colors as they get a chance to lead, and we are shocked when they are removed from the equation. Like a season of Game of Thrones, nobody is safe, and everybody can die suddenly. As fans of that series know, the downside is that you eventually become desensitized to the shock of losing a big player, and you start to feel frustrated that you’re constantly being set back to zero when a new person becomes the lead.
Green Room gives the main stars a chance to really explore their characters, and each ends up being fascinating. Patrick Stewart is refreshingly menacing as the racist club owner, and he gives the character a multilayered portrayal. He can’t help but seem stern, scholarly and stately…but he also is completely ruthless and malevolent. He speaks to his group of alt-right thugs like he’s at a PTA meeting, and then rounds on one of his underlings, dripping menace and hate speech. He’s a complex character, and a reminder that awful people can seem just as fatherly and professional as anyone else.
Anton Yelchin plays his role with quiet reserve. He’s a soulful and careful character, a bit odd for a punk rock guitarist. When the band decides to open their set with an anti Nazi song, he’s the only one who isn’t thrilled to be giving a room of psychopaths the middle finger. He’s not quite the group’s moral compass, but he is their contemplative side. When he emerges as the character with the best ideas, you can see that his timid brains are more important than Reece’s aggressive muscles.
The character that stood out most for me was Imogen Poots as Amber. A member of a Neo-Nazi metal band, you’d expect her to be as bad as the rest. Instead, she’s just a musician surrounded by bad choices, and cynically trying to survive and make music in an environment where hatred and bigotry are her only other options. Imogen Poots is an actress who never shies away from difficult and varied roles, and I’m really becoming quite a fan of her work.
Director Jeremy Solnier really seems to thrive on bucking expectations. We have a polished and fatherly skinhead leader, an introspective punk rocker, and a disillusioned Neo-Nazi musician as our main leads. For a film about punk rock and heavy metal, the film spends a lot of time in silence, and doesn’t have all that much music. The horrifying violence is treated as necessary and slightly embarrassing by those involved. The film takes pains not to assign moral stigmas to either sides. It certainly doesn’t treat either the nihilists or the Nazis as cartoonish bad guys. It’s a movie about bad choices leading to a very bad situation, and the consequences are that a lot of people are going to die.
As a horror movie, Green Room really takes some time to come to a boil. The first half hour follows the band on their doomed tour stops while we get to know our protagonists. When they finally reach the club the drama and tension take one big leap forward, and then the movie returns to a slow simmer. It’s not until the final half hour that the film suddenly bursts into bloody action. The cast is winnowed down in a heartbeat, and then the film gives us yet another break as each side regroups. The pacing can be a bit of a drawback, but it feels like your watching a pitched battle, where each side attempts to lull the other into a mistake before a spasm of violence erupts, and then each side resumes its vigil.
Green Room is a film with its own personality and set of rules, and that at times can frustrate those expecting a more main-stream horror film. At the end of the day, I enjoyed the film for what it accomplishes. The characters are all memorable and complex, and the acting on display is very strong. The choice to portray awful people and events with an air of detachment was a gamble that I feel pays off. If you want to see a film where a bunch of skinheads get their asses whipped and you get to feel superior about it, this is not your film. If you want to see struggling people reaping the whirlwind of their bad decisions in bloody paroxysms of violence that are separated by tense stand-offs, then Green Room is your cup of tea.