Dir. Jeremy Saulnier (2023)
A touring punk band must survive the night after accidentally witnessing a murder at a Nazi bar.
The punk subculture has always been fascinating to me. I'm a huge fan of the music: my Spotify is filled with Bands like The Ramones and Fugazi, with more than a few Dropkick Murphys and Dead Kennedys thrown in as well. I've still got a picture of myself standing at the doors of CBGB somewhere as well. The flip side, of course, is the Nazi and White Nationalist movements that also have embraced the anti-authority aspects of the genre, completely ignoring that anti-authoritarian ethos that has lived inside punk since the beginning. The dichotomy between anti-Nazis and neo-fascists is one of my favorite rabbitholes to plunder, and while I was a little bit (ok, a lot bit) late to the party, I knew that Green Room, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier's brutal thriller about a punk band holed up in a Nazi bar, would be right up my alley.
Punk rockers Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner) are touring Oregon with their band The Ain't Rights. Running low on funds, they agree to perform a gig at a local bar recommended by a radio host who had previously interviewed them for his show. He warns them before letting them head out, however, that the bar they would be playing at was populated by skinheads, a common on-the-job hazard for punk bands for some of the reasons listed above. Nevertheless, The Ain't Rights agree to play the show, after which they accidentally witness a murder, and they must find a way to escape the bar while Nazis have gathered around the building to prevent their escape.
There's something very French about this one, which I suppose is often the case with Nazis (har har). It actually reminded me a good bit of Frontier(s), the disturbing, nihilistic New French Extremity film that also involves a group of people running into a bunch of neo-Nazis. The style of the film was similar, the brutal and unflinching violence echoing the hopelessness of the situation. The cinematography was also familiar, though Frontier(s) was more gray/yellow scale while Green Room, of course, was populated by verdant hues. The story in Saulnier's film, however, is wholly (and unfortunately) American, and unlike the more supernatural/bizarre elements of the French film, Green Room feels like a story that you'd see on the news as yet another example of the underlying fascism populating pockets of America that never seems to evolve past the hate of the past generation.
There's very little not to love about this film. The acting is stellar, lead by Sir Patrick Stewart and the late Yelchin as foils on the ideological spectrum. The music is also excellent, though I suppose that will depend on your aural fixations. The violence is refreshingly ruthless, realistic, and uncompromising, delivering plenty of ghastly scenes of mayhem that never feel like they are overly gratuitous or linger too long on screen. The nihilism of the film doesn't feel pointed, either, which in this case is actually a good thing: the events in the film just happen, for no other reason than these people were caught at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Alternatively, you could also make the case that everyone within the world of this film is reaping the consequences of their own choices, forced to live within a world that they themselves have created. The Ain't Rights were warned beforehand that the venue they were going to be playing at was populated by evil and chose to go anyway, pursuing a measly $350 in order to make their path home easier. While the Nazis will, inevitably, die by the sword for which they once lived, the punk band finds themselves in the same predicament, falling victim to those whose patronage they sought, whether they agreed with their political views or not. Their opening song seeks to absolve them of their complicity, but it runs beneath the surface regardless.
Unlike a lot of the more pessimistic films from overseas, Saulnier's Green Room feels more like a cultural discussion about hidden sins, taking place in an environment that we all know exists but have refused to excise by its roots. Perhaps that's the true nihilism, the pointless existence in a world where evil never seems to be able to be finished for good. Or perhaps it says more about us, an indictment on the fact that we've just never bothered. Regardless of how you take the film, it's an interesting and fatalistic movie that hits like a Mack truck, pulse pounding and teeth gritting throughout. And thankfully, no matter what message you decide to take from the film, Saulnier did not hesitate to insert the true takeaway within: Nazi Punks Fuck Off.
Who this movie is for: Brutal horror fans, Nihilistic movie lovers, Black Flag enthusiasts
Bottom line: Dark, disturbing, and brutal as all hell, Green Room is a hell of a thrill ride with an intriguing political message. While it would be nice to dismiss these themes as a thing of the past, we have seen recently that they are not. Fantastic performances drive a breakneck plot, and director Jeremy Saulnier's gritty work behind the camera delivers a must-watch for fans of brutal horror. You might also pick up a couple of new songs for your playlist while you're at it.