Tonight I had the unparalleled pleasure of seeing a truly upsetting film titled Green Room: a festival baby and third film of Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier. As brutal and unnerving as Blue Ruin, certainly more-so, the film captures a tense atmosphere in a largely unexplored setting: the proliferated neo-Nazism in the Pacific Northwest's most rural areas. It's almost amazing that this is not a contradiction more often explored; the dysphoria between the "progressive" centers Portland, Seattle, et al, is buffeted by an extreme white-nationalism in the highly impacted out-of-the-way forest and desert areas.
Green Room takes place in the former, a neo-Nazi clubhouse somewhere inside the rainy redwood forests of central Oregon. The film follows a broke hardcore band as they attempt to scrape money from stop-to-stop on tour. They end up taking a side show at the aforementioned clubhouse. After witnessing a murder, they face an encroaching onslaught of neo-Nazi self-preservation at the expense of their own lives. Even the most jaded of us (me) should be truly upset at the violence depicted, which the deeply hateful antagonists joyously unleash.
The most beautiful aspect this cultivated is the film's relationship to hardcore and its accompanying scene. The film plays like a hardcore album: heavy, fast, brutal, screeching. It's harrowing and upsetting, but somehow maintains its compelling tone, even when the protagonists are irreversibly brutalized. Compelling in every regard. Your visceral need to see what happens to these kids makes a hearty stew with your morbid curiosity to see who and how the next person to be extinguished meets their fate; this is, of course, flanked by a real intrigue about the mind of the head protagonist, Darcy, played by Sir Patrick Stewart.
People familiar with punk and hardcore scenes are no doubt accustomed to the tension between the left-wing and right-wing legs of the subculture. This is played into in a very real way: the band need gas money, and perform for the crowd despite their aversion. The tension later in the film is predicated on this early uneasiness across the divided cast and becomes a shocking contrast to how unpleasant the turns of the story become.
The cast deserves a mention. It's certainly ensemble, the final protagonists only emerging in the third act as other characters slowly meet their grisly demise. It's great seeing Alia Shawkat and Mark Weber, as always, but the happy surprise is the stand-out if initially subdued performances from Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots. I don't want to say too much about any one character because it's better not knowing their individual fates, or to expect whose death is coming and when, so suffice to say that there isn't a weak link in the cast.
My ultimate recommendation is extremely positive. This is one of the better films I've seen this year, and that's not among competition. Knight of Cups and The Witch were beautiful, and Midnight Special had the unique quality of being widely inspired by John Carpenter's under-appreciated film Star Man that endeared me to it completely. I must insist a minor warning that the violence is extremely unpleasant, but this certainly works for the film, and never against it. If you're squeamish, though, it would be a rough ride.