Friday the thirteenth is lucky for some as Gareth Negus has more fun than he expected to with Cannes 2015 Directors’ Fortnight selection Green Room, in UK cinemas this week.
Though it’s being billed as a thriller, Green Room is really a horror film, and a good one – particularly for children of the VHS era with a fondness for gore. Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film, Blue Ruin, had an 80s exploitation vibe about it; with his follow up, he’s virtually gone full Carpenter.
The Ain’t Rights are a struggling punk band, who are so concerned about Keeping It Real that they refuse to have any social media presence whatsoever. This, you might think, could be a bad move for people in a horror film, who might want to be easily found. Maybe, in years to come, scenes in which future victims expound upon their dislike of Twitter can be added to the regulation ‘I can’t get a signal out here’ routine.
Circumstances lead the band to accept, at short notice, a support slot at a neo-Nazi club. (“Just don’t talk politics”, they are advised.) After what turns out to be a successful gig, despite their risky decision to open with a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off, things go badly wrong when Pat (Anton Yelchin) stumbles across a murder scene in the Green Room. Pretty soon, the band is holed up in the room along with intended next victim Amber (Imogen Poots) and bouncer Big Justin (Eric Edelstein), and club owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart) is sent for to resolve the stand-off.
The Nazis in this film serve the same narrative purpose as the united gangs in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, or the zombies in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. As a rampaging evil horde, any resemblance to actual Nazis, living or dead, is probably coincidental (the screenplay is careful to point out that they are non-affiliated, and in fact it’s anyone’s guess whether Darcy is fully committed to the ideals of Nazism, or simply finds it a useful area to practice his chosen career as a Massive Bastard). Some of the details sound authentic – I googled “red laces” and swiftly regretted it – but maybe the important thing is that they are closer to reality than Romero’s zombies. Whereas the monsters in most films of this ilk simply want to break through the barricaded doors and windows to kill and/or eat the protagonists, Darcy and his subordinates are obliged to hang around and strategise, and think beyond the end of the film.
Refreshingly, the Ain’t Rights also feel credible. Many genre films feel the need to give one character a background that explains how they are able to work out how to defeat an army of faceless villains; this lot are no more or less capable than many others would be in a pinch.
According to Saulnier, Patrick Stewart was looking for a villain to play, and he relishes the role of the seemingly reasonable but conscience-free Darcy. It’s not his first bad guy – the nearest he’s come to this role is probably the title part in Dad Savage (1998) – but Green Room is the superior film. The rest of the cast range from fairly familiar (Yelchin, Poots, Alia Shawcat) to virtually unknown, which makes it slightly harder than usual to guess who will get killed and in which order. They are all very good, but special mention should go to Macon Blair (the lead in Blue Ruin), who makes the Nazi subordinate in over his head a surprisingly sympathetic figure.
It would be nice if Stewart’s casting combined with Saulnier’s indie cred gets Green Room a wider release than Blue Ruin managed; it should go down well both in multiplexes and indie venues, though the pleasingly high level of gory violence might cause palpitations in anyone wandering in because Florence Foster Jenkins was sold out.
Green Room is in UK cinemas from today.