Watching Green Room gave me a very unnerving, uncomfortable feeling in my gut. So in order to recall it properly I will analogize it in an over-the-top, silly manner so I don’t relive any trauma. With that in mind, watching Green Room is like eating a calzone: I don’t know if its pizza, or an Italian dish or something fat people call a vegetable because it has a pound of tomato sauce in it. All I know is that I don’t really know what it is, but I love eating it all the same. Sure, by the final few bites I had to fight the pieces that are coming back up, forcing it down my gullet as I grip the edges of the couch. Nor am I sure if my decision was a good one as I lie on the floor in what I’m sure is the first stage of a diabetic coma.
But let’s talk about those first few bites. Like I said, Green Room is a cinematic calzone using mixtures of genres, ingredients if you will, that makes watching it such a delicious surprise. And with this recipe the first ingredient is the simplest—the bread.
Here, the bread works as a punk rock drama. A group of friends, Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner), in a band I am clearly too old in the ears to appreciate trudge on the road, syphoning gas to get to the next gig and crashing in strangers’ apartments. But they have fun doing it, like looking at the bright side of crashing into corn field or giggling at each other’s farts. Good times. They are doing it all for the love of music, playing any gig to get by.
This includes unexpectedly playing a show at a white supremacy joint, in the woods, in the middle of nowhere. No more good times. The show goes fine, and director Jeremy Saulnier (who did an excellent job on Blue Ruin) proved he can make anything—including hateful Nazis—look elegant. Loud music and clashing audience members shot in an ethereal slo-mo, the light pouncing off a swastika-clad flag with an intriguing aura, all to emphasize the boundaryless unity of music. Simple, beautiful and engaging. That, my friends, is what I call some good bread.
Next came the hodgepodge of ingredients, stuffed into the bread turning it into something else entirely at a breakneck pace. One moment the music is creating an otherworldly atmosphere, and then Pat discovers a murder (clarifying Nazis are indeed bad people) the gang is locked in the green room until the band of hate-mongers decides what to do with them.
What follows is a seamless combination of atmospheric thriller, hostage flick and procedural drama. That last bit may seem out of place, but I was most engaged while leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) tried to organize his clan and the situation with more precision and intelligence than any Nazi should rightly exude. Stewart exudes just that with a calm cool and strength, mixed in with a mysterious wisdom only he has. It’s like watching Daniel Day-Lewis play Abraham Lincoln, but with less witty anecdotes and more uses of the N-word.
Saulnier keeps everything moving so fast and loose I never knew what flavor or ingredient to expect next. One moment everything seems to be going smoothly, the situation is calm and then—boom!—someone is getting their hand chopped off with a machete.
However, these gruesome acts are where I get to the queasy, gas bubbly part of the dish, wherein I regret everything I’ve done in the last few moments. In the final act the movie goes straight-up horror movie slaughter fest, with buckets of blood and remorse out the window. In an attempt to be both brutal and fresh, Saulnier ends up being mostly brutal and only slightly fresh. The horrific, bloody violence is shocking and relentless as the third act gets going, but only marginally succeeds when it tries to be surprising, like when main characters get wiped out in an instant by having throats ripped out and things of that nature. The “anyone can die at any time” trope is being used more often as horror movies modernize so when the kills come out of absolutely nowhere its shocking, but not exactly surprising—which is a perfect way to sum up the third act in general.
Not to mention this movie doesn’t do much for the female members of the audience wishing to see stronger women portrayed in movies, as the female characters (especially Sam, sadly) don’t get to do much except scream, cry and make impulsive decisions. For such a seemingly original movie from a very talented filmmaker it’s annoyingly disappointing to see a young female character with so little to contribute. I mean, even a few of the crazy Nazis have complexity.
But, hey, that’s the final 30 minutes or so of this movie for ya—a dive into too familiar of territory way too nauseating to fully enjoy. But the first two acts are amazing nonetheless. A delicious concoction of mind-boggling goodness so immense you can’t even fathom how some genius could make it, but that will probably leave you with a disgusting feeling after. But everything before that last bit is so worth it I will most likely risk the aftermath again and again just for those early few moments when the world didn’t seem so dark—only to get very, very dark and depressing after. On second thought, I may just have a meatball sub next time.