Punk rock­ers bat­tle neo-nazis in scary thriller

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - GO SEE - By John Bei­fuss

“Green Room” in­tro­duces it­self via a suc­ces­sion of small, smart sur­prises be­fore set­tling (or un­set­tling) into the hor­ror/ siege sce­nario that rep­re­sents its tense, bloody rea­son for be­ing. It be­gins in near dark­ness, with green stalks press­ing against in­ad­e­quate win­dows. The loom­ing fo­liage sug­gests a jun­gle, but we quickly re­al­ize we’re in a less men­ac­ing if still unusual lo­ca­tion, a corn­field. More, we’re in­side the stalled, grungy tour van of the Ain’t Rights, an earnest, pro­gres­sive punk band on a sub­sis­tence-level road trip across Amer­ica. The van is in a field be­cause its driver has fallen asleep at the wheel. So the movie opens in a mo­ment of ba­nal cri­sis: a pit stop be­fore the life-or-death dan­ger to come.

The Ain’t Rights are the good guys, so it’s a bit of a naughty thrill when we dis­cover they fuel their van with gas si­phoned from parked cars; it’s less un­ex­pected (but en­tirely wel­come, as a touch of au­then­tic­ity) when we learn the band re­lies on the bor­rowed floors of in­sol­vent fans and hob­by­ist pro­mot­ers for overnight ac­com­mo­da­tions. The pay­offs af­ter gigs are unim­pres­sive. “Split four ways, it’s six bucks each,” says the lone distaff Ain’t Right, Sam (Alia Shawkat), af­ter one botched book­ing.

The band’s other un­der­com­pen­sated mem­bers in­clude green-haired vo­cal­ist Tiger (Cal­lum Turner); Reese (Joe Cole), a drum­mer and — for­tu­itously — ju-jitsu en­thu­si­ast; and Pat, a soft-spo­ken gui­tarist. We as­sume Pat will be one of the fi­nal sur­vivors be­cause he is played by the most fa­mil­iar of the male Ain’t Rights, An­ton Yelchin, veteran of the “Star Trek” and “Ter­mi­na­tor” fran­chises. (In­ci­den­tally, the script makes a point of not­ing that the old-school Ain’t Rights have no so­cial me­dia pres­ence, a plot de­tail that ap­par­ently is go­ing to join “hey, there’s no cell­phone ser­vice here” in fu­ture shock­ers.) Sam (Alia Shawkat) and Pat (An­ton Yelchin, right) are two mem­bers of the Ain’t Rights punk band.

Pre­vi­ous hor­ror movies — 1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Mas­sacre,” most fa­mously — have demon­strated that young peo­ple who travel in vans to re­mote lo­ca­tions may not live to re­gret it. Was “Green Room” in­spired by an episode in 1980’s “Mo­tel Hell,” in which a van of punk rock­ers is run off the road so the mem­bers of Ivan and the Ter­ri­bles can join the “all kinds of crit­ters” found in “Farmer Vin­cent’s frit­ters”? That movie was, es­sen­tially, a com­edy, while “Green Room,” for all its oc­ca­sional hu­mor, is staged with straight-edge so­bri­ety, the bet­ter to rack the nerves.

“Green Room” fore­grounds the anti-ur­ban racial iso­la­tion­ism im­plicit to the in­bred ru­ral killer clans of “Chain Saw” and

the like. Booked into a bunker­like com­pound in the Ore­gon back­woods that proves to be a club­house for white-su­prem­a­cist skin­heads and their snarling Rot­tweil­ers, the Ain’t Rights open with a provo­ca­tion, the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks F--- Off.” The mu­si­cians aren’t in real dan­ger, how­ever, un­til they be­come ac­ci­den­tal wit­nesses to a crime in the so-called green room (the place in a venue where per­form­ers hang out while off­stage). At this point, the movie be­comes a siege film in the vein of “Straw Dogs,” “Night of the Liv­ing Dead” and “The Purge,” to name just three pop­u­lar ex­am­ples, with the Ain’t Rights and an­other wit­ness (Imo­gen Poots) trapped in­side the room with a corpse, a hos­tile skin­head hostage and few no­tions on how to es­cape, much less sur­vive.

Out­side, the racists are mo­bi­lized by their sat­ur­nine leader, played by Pa­trick Ste­wart, whose the­atri­cal au­thor­ity and ma­jor-stu­dio fa­mil­iar­ity has a tal­is­manic ef­fect: He val­i­dates the film for non-grunge fans, re­as­sur­ing movie­go­ers who shy away from vi­o­lent ex­ploita­tion fare that this project has merit, in ad­di­tion to a low bud­get and ag­o­niz­ingly re­al­is­tic (if lim­ited) gross-out gore ef­fects.

If the movie’s vil­lains are neo-nazis, its style is neo-grindhouse. Like writer-di­rec­tor Jeremy Saulnier’s pre­vi­ous re­lease, the eco­nom­i­cal re­venge thriller “Blue Ruin” (2013, star­ring Ma­con Blair, who is very ef­fec­tive in a sup­port­ing role in “Green Room”), this is a genre film that owes as much to the Amer­i­can indie move­ment of the past decade — to “mum­blecore” and its arty off­shoots — as to the grue­some thrillers of the 1970s. Saulnier is part of an in­sur­gency of film­mak­ers — oth­ers in­clude Ti West (“The Sacra­ment”), Adam Win­gard (“The Guest”), Robert Eg­gers (“The Witch”) and ar­guably even Josephine Decker (“Thou Wast Mild and Lovely”) and, on oc­ca­sion, the om­niv­o­rous Joe Swan­berg (“Sil­ver Bul­lets”) — that has em­braced the do-it-your­self re­source­ful­ness, sup­posed emo­tional hon­esty and pho­to­graphic re­al­ism of in­de­pen­dent cin­ema with­out re­nounc­ing the ex­pres­sion­is­tic ex­tremes of vi­o­lence and ac­tion that mo­ti­vate and il­lu­mi­nate be­hav­ior in genre films.

If “Green Room” is in­fre­quently a lit­tle too pre­dictably “indie,” in its ran­dom pretty images and some­times wan synth scor­ing, and if it is some­times con­trived in its script­ing (a run­ning joke about “desert is­land” bands and an in­ter­rupted paint­ball anec­dote re­mind us this is only fic­tion, af­ter all), it’s also un­nerv­ing, rous­ing and scary — and, in its fi­nal mo­ments, un­ex­pect­edly touch­ing and tragic. “Green Room” sug­gests Saulnier could be one of re­cent his­tory’s most ex­cit­ing com­mer­cial moviemak­ers, if he can avoid be­com­ing lost in the maze of Bond/marvel/etc. fran­chise of­fers no doubt al­ready com­ing his way.

“Green Room” is ex­clu­sively at the Malco Par­adiso.

Pho­tos by Scott Green/a24 films/as­so­ci­ated PRESS

Jake Kasch (from left), Ma­con blair and Pa­trick Ste­wart ap­pear in the tense hor­ror/siege film “Green Room.”

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