“Time to start the clean-up. We’re gonna need a push broom.”
When the band moves onto the second song of their set, the crowd really starts to get into it. All shaved heads and tattoos and leather jackets, they abandon themselves to the mosh, shoving and pushing at one another with their bodies. The band plays and sings and headbangs. Slow motion. Instead of punk rock on the soundtrack, an instrumental, slow rolling synths. It’s a moment of grace, the one point in the whole movie when the people on stage and the people in the crowd are in total sync. Everyone wants to feel something greater than themselves. Everybody wants friends, wants to belong. For some people, that means crossing the country in the same van, playing gigs for gas money because nobody else knows your name. For other people, that means following orders, even if your orders are to kill. Everybody wants to feel something greater than themselves.
Green Room is an excellent thriller about what happens when two such groups are put in a situation where they must do violence to one another. For the NeoNazi skinheads who own the club, it’s a matter of covering up a murder. For the punk band Ain’t Rights, it’s just about survival. Think of it like a game. The playing field is uneven but clear; each side has certain advantages and certain disadvantages, and the locked door between them works both ways, promising both imprisonment and safety. The question is, whose values will allow them to win out?
A lot of the marketing and criticism for Green Room talks about the film’s intensity and gore, although I think mostly what people responded to was strong, clear, effective filmmaking. There’s the way the screenplay spends tens of minutes building up tension before 45 seconds of murder and mayhem. The battle scenes are realistically chaotic and even kind of stupid. At one point our heroes decide to go outside and step right into a hail of gunfire; rather than the two sides trading shots from behind cover like in a typical action movie, the victims just kind of scream and flail and run back inside. It’s that kind of realism that really makes you understand just how dangerous and upsetting this story is–none of these characters are John McClane. When anyone in this movie dies, they die quickly and horrifically. Another neat touch is the way the film plays some of its bloodiest moments as making virtually no noise; somehow, watching someone get cut open is even freakier without the standard cinematic Foley accompaniment.
Stylistically, the movie really does feel like a video game at times. There are shots that should come with a little “item added to inventory” pop-up, and moments when the characters have to make specific choices in a limited amount of time without having all the information. The overall structure, in which both sides are fighting to gain weapons and control the space, feels like any multiplayer Deathmatch. It’s easy to envision the film remade as a Telltale or Bioware game, something with extensive dialogue trees that grow increasingly difficult until the situation explodes into sudden, terrifying violence.
At first glance, it would seem like the skinheads are going to win this game handily. They’re organized and efficient. They have a plan, and know exactly what they need to do to get there. They’re so dedicated to the cause that they’re willing to get stabbed to throw off the cops (“Wouldn’t be the first time,” says the volunteer victim). And most importantly, they have a leader, Darcy (Patrick Stewart, very understated) whose reasonable tone of voice and matter of fact, step-by-step thinking is both effective and pretty creepy. “It’s not going to end well,” he says through the door, finally dropping his bullshit about letting Ain’t Rights leave the room alive. He says it like he’s predicting dessert after dinner. Add to all those social assets the fact that they’ve got guns, dogs, knives, and control of everything outside the green room door, and it seems like a lock for the bad guys.
The good guys–Ain’t Rights and a stranger stuck in the room, Amber–hardly seem up to the do-or-die task that’s facing them. There’s no clear leader in the group–Reese is competent but not interested (“Should we hide?” one of his bandmates asks at one point; “Do whatever you want,” Reese replies), Sam (Alikat Shaw, who is perfectly fine here but will never not be Maeby Fünke to me) doesn’t really want to hurt anybody, Pat’s unsure of himself, and Tiger’s, well, Tiger. There’s no army here, just a bunch of scared young people in over their head. The situation is grim.
But as events play out, we gradually see some reversals of fortune. It turns out that the band is smarter and more resourceful than Darcy and his men bargained for. And it turns out that little binds together Darcy’s group beyond their hateful ideology. All he cares about is protecting his business, and those loyal men or dogs who have to fall to do that are spent without a second thought. Much is made on their side of the red shoelaces that indicate who’s “made,” the trusted inside circle. But it’s a sad and petty prize to throw your life (or someone else’s) away to win. Better, I think, to be part of the band. They actually care about one another. When push comes to shove they’ll do what they have to do to help one another survive. That’s real friendship, and that’s one reason they have a chance at winning this thing.
The other reason? They’re punks. Sometimes all you need to survive in a tight spot is the ability to say “Fuck it,” and there’s no training for that like a life on the road, screaming into the microphone in diners and dive bars, pursuing pure, anarchical expression.
Actually, the most punk thing they do comes early in the film. After reluctantly taking a gig playing in a skinhead bar, Ain’t Rights decide to thumb their nose at the crowd by playing a cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks:”
It goes over about as well as you’d expect, with people in the crowd spitting, throwing beer bottles, or leaving the bar entirely. But here’s the real question: after everything that later ensues, the violence and the death, does the band’s pre-emptive “fuck you” still hold meaning?
I think so. Standing up against hate is maybe the only thing that matters in a world where hate has the power to destroy you. Especially when that hate is, as far as the local environment’s concerned, the organized establishment, the people with all the power. Ultimately that’s the conflict here: order versus chaos. And chaos always deserves an outside chance.
Or maybe it’s just about good versus evil. At the end of the film, one of the trained, killer dogs, having wandered away from the fight, finds its way to its dead master and lies down beside him. Dogs can be excused for staying loyal to their masters, even when their masters are violent, racist people. Human beings have no excuse. Choose your friends carefully, and ask yourself: what am I getting for cutting my hair and taking up arms and doing whatever horrible things I’m told to do? Is it more than a pair of red shoelaces?
Every year, Kyu attempts to watch and review 31 horror movies in 31 days. This year, it’s Killtoberfest 4: Four Gore and Severed Ears Ago, because the real life NeoNazis are ready to vote. Check out past Killtoberfests along with this year’s reviews, and be sure to follow us on Twitter @insidethekraken to track Kyu’s progress.