J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sundance ’16: Green Room

They are the far-right, but if you ask them, they will admit they are really the ultra-left. At least they are self-aware. They also appreciate hardcore rock and punk. Playing a hate-rock palooza will give a hipster punk band enough gas money to get home, but all bets are off when they witness a murder in Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Pat’s band the “Ain’t Rights” was booked by a college presenter right before he lost his regular programming night. To make it up to them, he arranges a spot on the bill at a backwoods Aryan club through his rather intense cousin. If they stick to their early stuff and avoid politics, the band should be fine. However, when they walk into a drug-related murder, they suddenly find themselves in a stand-off with the Neo-National Socialists.

Fortunately, the lead singer knows his mixed martial arts, but they are still woefully outgunned. They will also be outclassed in terms of tactics and strategy when the club’s mysterious owner Darcy Banker takes charge of the green room siege. The victim’s friend Amber is not much help either, at least at first. However, when the chips are really, really down, she just might have more fight in her than the punk rockers.

Although not quite as stylish and satisfying as his debut, Blue Ruin, Saulnier certainly does not shy away from carnage this time around. This is not a film for Hallmark Channel viewers, especially considering the explicit ways Banker’s Black Shirts use attack dogs as weapons. Saulnier creates a real claustrophobic sense of place in the skinhead club, stage-managing the successive attacks quite adroitly.

Anton Yelchin sure works a lot. He is fine as Pat the nebbish bassist, but it is not a showy or particularly memorable role. On the other hand, Alia Shawkat’s regular, standard issue sarcastic Daria-esque persona fits Sam the lead guitarist like a glove. To her credit, an unrecognizable Imogen Poots manages to scratch a bit of a character development arc as Amber. However, all the attention will be focused on Patrick Stewart’s spectacularly villainous turn as calmly ruthless Banker.

If you like hardcore punk and blood splatter than Green Room is the film for you. Somehow, Saulnier makes violence, hate groups, and the state of Oregon a good deal of fun. Recommended for fans of slyly subversive thrillers with high body counts, Green Room screens again today (1/25) and tomorrow (1/26) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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