Monday, July 18, 2016

Seeing Green

The movie Green Room didn't linger long in theaters during its run a few months back, perhaps in part because people like me -- who knew of it and wanted to see it -- didn't go. But it has now arrived on Blu-ray, and I'm very glad I went back to catch up.

Green Room follows a young punk band traveling in their beat up van. Desperate for cash, they take a gig playing at a neo-Nazi bar in a secluded Oregon location. When they see something they shouldn't, they wind up barricaded in the bar's green room, cowering in fear at what the bar's ruthless owner might to do them.

I'd heard that Green Room was a taut and suspenseful thriller -- and it most certainly is. But it also drinks some from the "slasher horror" well, toggling back and forth to capture the best of both sub-genres. One moment, the movie is loaded with the tension of wondering how the characters will get out of their impossible situation. The next moment is one of shock and revulsion as something horrific transpires. It's a perfectly arrayed path of wind-up and release, peaks and valleys -- and always building in intensity.

Writer and director Jeremy Saulnier clearly takes the often-maligned genre very seriously. In so doing, he's able to attract a great cast willing to take it seriously too. Alia Shawkat completes a transition from comedy (Arrested Development) to comedy-horror (The Final Girls) to just straight horror. Even more intense is Imogen Poots, who believably moves from "checked out" to "amped up" in the tight turns the script demands of her character. There are also several talented unknowns and lesser-knowns.

Anton Yelchin is the top-billed actor, and gives a marvelous performance (as always, regardless of the quality of the movie around him). At first, it's hard not to think of the young actor's recent and untimely death, but you're quickly caught up in the movie itself. His character has the widest range to cover by any actor's measure -- action, obstacle, or emotion -- and there's never a false moment.

The main villain of the piece, the bar's neo-Nazi owner, is played by Patrick Stewart. There's something subversive in casting "Captain Picard" (who you never once think of while watching the movie) as another commanding leader, this one so cold and dangerous. The performance is all the more chilling for its restraint; there's rarely so much as a raised voice as this ringleader tosses off racial slurs and casually plots ghastly crimes. You simultaneously want to lean in to hear him and recoil backward at everything he is.

I think my hopes for this movie were somewhat modest, and it soared well beyond them. I give Green Room an A-. It's dark and intense (and too violent for some), but I'd definitely recommend it.

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