GREEN ROOM (2016, Jeremy Saulnier)
Saulnier’s style is focused and lean, supported by ace editing from Julia Bloch (who cut R.E.M.’s terrific video for “It Happened Today” and was an AE on THE TREE OF LIFE) — one terrific cut early on signals the kind of movie this will be: the band drops the needle on a record to begin an all-night rager and one frame later the record is skipping at the end the following morning. Who needs to see the revelry? We get the idea. Let’s move on.
Quick, dirty, and over in a minute, GREEN ROOM feels much like the hardcore punk songs its protagonists play on stage: it’s a bloody little firecracker of a thriller that can infuse you with adrenaline during its all-too-brief runtime and speak to subjects like injustice and inhumanity. Those who incite carnage may never be punished, and innocence can be snuffed out in the blink of an eye.
Saulnier’s sophomore feature BLUE RUIN was a harsh, bloody revenge thriller intent on showing its audience that real-life violent crime isn’t as easy as one might think. The devil is in the details. It was a good idea with some fatal flaws, notably poor supporting performances and comical villains that devolved into Cletus-The-Slack-Jawed-Yokel caricatures. GREEN ROOM is a major step up in that its villains are neo-Nazi drug dealers who must be smarter than the inbred rednecks Saulnier was mocking before. It also has no weak links in the cast — even the tiniest bit parts ring true. And while we get more of this thesis that the type of violence we normally see in movies would be uglier and messier if it were depicted realistically, there’s now some metaphorical value in that it seeps into character details as well. This is a hardcore band who plays anarchist songs and defiantly, intentionally antagonizes its audience, and who each select obscure punk bands as their desert-island choices. But when push comes to stab, the pain is real, they cry when they’re cut, and it turns out their desert-island band might be Prince.
The message here is so well-delivered visually that we really don’t need the conversation Pat has with Amber about the difference between pretend killing and real war; that felt like Sundance Screenwriting Lab dialogue meant to feed anyone not paying close enough attention. But fortunately, misfires like that are quite rare in these electrifying 100 minutes that shred you like a punk riff and keep your armpits sweating. Ironically, for the brief time we do see a hardcore stage performance, the music drops out and turns to a swelling, beautiful score as the mosh pit stamps in slow-motion and the images become poetic. This is because it’s the one time — the only time — things are working just as they should be and everyone’s happy.