Monday, July 25, 2016

"Green Room": review

[WARNING: SPOILERS. Starting with the pic below.]

I watched "Green Room" mainly to give poor, deceased Anton Yelchin another go after having watched the mediocre "Odd Thomas" (reviewed here), but also because another Trek star appears in the film: Patrick Stewart, who plays Darcy, the film's main antagonist. So "Green Room" pits Captain Picard against Mr. Chekov, and I suppose the photo at the top of this review is a bit of a spoiler as to how that conflict turns out.

Stewart is interesting for the dramatic choices he makes. Classically trained as a Shakespearean, he has played a wide variety of characters ranging from very good to very bad. Even within a particular production, the choices he makes as an actor are often interesting to the point of being controversial. In a film production of "Macbeth," for example, Stewart's recitation of the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy was done in a sad, rueful tone of voice that caused highbrow critics to howl: everyone knows, the critics said, that at that point in the play, Macbeth has become detached from reality as everything is falling apart around him, so the soliloquy should be delivered in an equally detached tone. Stewart generally shrugs and smiles at such criticism, content to let audiences sort out their reactions for themselves. (Stewart, as King Claudius in a Royal Shakespeare Company/BBC production of "Hamlet," caused another stir when he had his character shrug right before quaffing a poisoned drink at the end of the play.) Ever the provocateur, Stewart plays the malign Darcy in "Green Room": a white supremacist who manages, among other things, a skinhead club in a remote, forested part of the Pacific Northwest.

The story focuses on a punk band called the Ain't Rights, which is composed of hipster twenty-somethings: there's Sam (Alia Shawkat), the female guitarist; Reece (Joe Cole), the drummer; Tiger (Callum Turner), the lead singer; and Pat (Anton Yelchin), the bassist. As a band, the Ain't Rights are talented but obscure, and they're hard up for cash. After getting skunked at one bar, they hear about a gig at a skinhead club not far from Portland, Oregon; the show will pay enough to allow the band to pay for gas instead of illegally siphoning it out of other cars, as they usually do. The band, despite being composed entirely of liberals, fatefully decides to play at this club. Their set begins with a bit of tension as they open with a cover of the Dead Kennedys' "Nazi Punks Fuck Off," but the skinhead crowd eventually warms to the Ain't Rights when the band starts to play its own music.

As the Ain't Rights are packing up and preparing to leave, Pat darts back into the green room (sort of a lounge-cum-prep area for performers) to retrieve Sam's cell phone... and he stumbles upon a murder scene: several skinheads are standing around a dead girl who has a knife driven hilt-deep into her temple. The other band members come back in to see what's taking Pat so long... and the rest of the drama unfolds from there. The neo-Nazis running the joint have no interest in letting witnesses to a murder go, and the Ain't Rights have no interest in dying. A tense standoff takes place, with the frightened punk band trapped inside the green room and everyone else outside. Darcy, the owner, eventually shows up and begins negotiating with Pat—who now represents the band—and through their conversation, we get a vision of several possible outcomes, none of which bode well for our heroes.

"Green Room" tried its best to be unpredictable, although I was pretty sure that, as is the tradition in most horror movies, the meekest/weakest people would end up surviving. In many such movies, this is normally a female character—someone whose strength and resolve we are encouraged to underestimate until, in the end, she ends up outsmarting the rampaging killer/monster/whatever. In "Green Room," Anton Yelchin's wise, soft-spoken Pat is the closest we get to the "final girl," unless we also count Imogen Poots's character, Amber, who is a witness to the initial murder.

Stewart provides the right amount of menace. His Darcy remains calm as the situation erodes, and he seems almost regretful about having to kill the young band members. Underlying this impression, though, is the character's sinister world-weariness: we get the feeling that Darcy has been involved in this sort of criminality before, which explains why, like Harvey Keitel's Winston Wolf in "Pulp Fiction," he knows exactly what to do to clean up the mess with minimal involvement from the police.

Yelchin's Pat is a more much challenging role than his Odd Thomas was. Pat gets severely injured by the neo-Nazis near the beginning of the film: his hand is nearly lopped off by a machete, and another band member uses duct tape to both stanch the bleeding and act as a crude splint. This leads to one of the film's major implausibilities: Pat never goes into severe shock despite having a nearly amputated hand. This allows Pat to remain a functioning part of the film up until the very end, and Yelchin, despite the lack of realism, does a great job playing a normal Joe who finds himself in a nightmarishly impossible situation.

While watching "Green Room," I had a hard time deciding what genre the film was. The closest I could come up with was either "thriller" or "comedy-thriller." Wikipedia lists "Green Room" as a "horror-thriller" film, but I didn't find the movie all that horrifying. Maybe I'm too jaded. Maybe I've been so desensitized by Hollywood gore that I feel next to nothing when one character uses a box cutter to unzip a large man's abdomen. The dialogue throughout the film often tilts toward humor, which is why I thought of it as a comedy. The film also contains a running joke: when asked what his "desert island" band would be (i.e., the one band he'd like to accompany him to a desert island), Pat doesn't have an immediate answer, and he keeps coming up empty until the movie's very last scene.

At the beginning of the story, "Green Room" feels like some sort of stoner comedy: as the movie opens, the band members wake up inside their van, which has run off the road and into a cornfield (I think it's corn, which I don't associate with the Pacific Northwest, but whatever); Pat and Sam bike up the road to a local hockey rink, where they siphon off some gas and get their van going again. The movie then becomes almost a slice-of-life documentary about what it's like to be part of a traveling punk band, crashing at a stranger's place and being interviewed for a podcast; I was being exposed to a subculture that I know nothing about, and I didn't really start relating to the band members until they found themselves in danger at the skinhead club. So the movie takes us through several different moods, and it seems to dabble in different genres before settling into thriller mode.

In all, "Green Room" was tense and watchable, even if the ending was somewhat predictable. And aside from Pat's ability to survive his horrific injury without going into shock, the only other thing that bothered me was why an old British guy was heading up a neo-Nazi chapter in the forests of Oregon. "Odd Thomas" came out in 2013; "Green Room" was released this year, in 2016. Neither film is the last in Anton Yelchin's filmography: he has at least four films now scheduled for posthumous release, so his ghost will be haunting us for some time yet. That said, "Green Room" is a far better vehicle for showcasing Yelchin's acting ability than "Odd Thomas" could ever be.

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