Green Room: No Posers

GR“Remember: it’s not a party, it’s a movement”, the leader of a group of skinheads, Darcy (Sir Patrick Stewart), tells a mosh pit as he clears people out of a bar in the middle rural Portland so his gang can dispose of a punk band (Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner) being held hostage after witnessing a murder—and there can be no witnesses. What follows can only be described as: traumatic. Green Room mashes a siege thriller with a slasher but Darcy’s warning is the point of difference. So often, we’re used to delighting in the punishment boogeymen exact on teenagers for their freedoms (pre-marital sex, partying, you know the drill) and a bloodlust develops. Writer and director Jeremy Saulnier diffuses any chance of solidarity with the villains with Darcy’s reminder because the movement he’s talking about involves neo-Nazi skinheads. And we’re not talking about punching bag Nazis from an Indiana Jones caper; Darcy’s crew are the real deal.

The violence is distressing but it matches the evil at play, so any disgust is well directed at the perpetrators. So often, filmmakers are willing to show acts of aggression without confronting the repercussions of those actions. You get bloodless bullet wounds and knives that thrust with no evidence of a cut. Not every film needs to get gory but if you’re going to introduce skinheads as antagonists, the bloodshed has to match the extremities of their worldviews—especially in America. The confrontations get ugly and the skinheads are experts at disposing of people without attracting attention from the police—the stomach churns thinking about what would happen is all the bodies buried in the forest around the compound suddenly stood up. Darcy is methodical with his dispensary plan and it ensures each dispatch is gnarly. The no gun policy means machetes and attack dogs are the weapons of choice. The unsheathing of those big knives get the heart racing before anything even happens; Saulnier has an incredible handle on tension while creating a foreboding atmosphere. As he did with Blue Ruin, Saulnier shows that violence breeds violence, there’s a chain reaction that paints a target on the back of every character. As the band begin to fight back the highest-ranking generals of Darcy’s crew become the hunted and begin to turn on each other—it’s a bloodbath of paranoia.

The poignancy of Green Room comes in its outlook toward the band ‘The Ain’t Rights’ and their punk rock posturing. As is always the case with music, the authenticity of a band and their desired genre is always under scrutiny, and the punk scene intensifies it. You can’t just show up and play punk, it’s a lifestyle, a dress code, and the bullshit detector of the audience is like a piranha with chainsaw strapped to it. Punk also projects a lot of aggression working in a feedback loop at a live show. The Freaks and Geeks episode Noshing and Moshing comes to mind where Daniel (James Franco) goes punk and finds out the hard way at a club that he’s no good at it after getting hit in a mosh pit. The opening song ‘The Ain’t Rights’ play at the skinhead compound is a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off, and while it seems like the punk thing to do, it shows how little the band understand about the antagonism of their music. Of course, Saulnier shows the band learning this lesson the hard way and the punk aesthetic gives way to death metal one and there’s no room for posers.

‘The Ain’t Rights’ get interviewed by an amateur journalist (David W. Thompson) early in the film and they talk a big game about refusing to put their music online while preferring to tour and put out their own records on low-fi formats in an attempt at staying true to punk. When quizzed about the one album they’d take to a desert island, they consider the options and there’s a divide between ‘the punk answer’ to appear authentic and a genuine answer true to their love of music. None of them can decide because they’re caught between those two worlds, all of them are still so young so it’s easy to slide into the rage of their music without understanding what any of it really means. In a way, it’s representative of the violence that attracts the young troops of Darcy to become skinheads; the fury is easy with no grasp of the consequences of their actions. Green Room pulsates on the collision of youth and violence—an old white man is pulling the strings, too—with unrelenting execution of the slasher/siege elements Saulnier draws from.

Cameron Williams

The Popcorn Junkie.