Friday, 20 May 2016
Clubbed To Death
2016 USA Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
UK cinema release print.
Green Room is one of those movies that both looks, and feels, quite raw. I was expecting nothing less, to be honest, from the director whose last film was the fairly uncompromising but emotionally harrowing Blue Ruin (which I reviewed here). The two films both feel like low budget, independent features... which I guess they are. Green Room, however, also has a couple of well known faces who I was not expecting to turn up in the cast, one of whom, I have to confess, I had to look up after the film had finished playing to realise who I had been watching.
The person I had to look up is Anton Yelchin, who I had already seen do an excellent job in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (reviewed here) but who is perhaps better known to many as the new face of Lieutenant Pavel Chekov in the recent Star Trek films. Here he plays one of a group of four 'heavy rock' musicians who are touring around the country as best they can, trying to get paid gigs and going from town to town by siphoning off petrol from parked cars. When their latest gig doesn’t quite go as planned, however, the four are offered another from the cousin of the guy who got them their current date.
They end up in a night club, waiting in the Green Room, a show business term for a room that an act waits in until they go on stage, and they really don’t like the crowd... a large amount of whom are skinheads. However, after riling the audience with a song guaranteed to do just that (rather like the scene in Breaking Glass, where Hazel O’ Connor gets the crowd worked up singing Black Man to a racist audience), they play through their set and make a good job of it. They are just about to be on their way when one of the four realises they left their mobile phone in the ‘green room’ and... this is where their problems begin as they find a group of ‘skins’ standing over a dead girl who has been stabbed in the head, with another girl being held prisoner... a predicament they quickly find themselves in.
The film then becomes about the owner of the club, who is called in to assist when matters get out of hand, finding a way to restage the situation for the police by attempting to kill the group and taking them to another scene where things will look like everything is the dead band’s fault. The band of ‘in way over their heads’ teens obviously have other ideas and when they manage to take an unlikely hostage in the green room in which they’ve locked themselves... and then things start to get even more ugly.
From here on out the film becomes a game of cat and mouse survival as the group, or what remains of them after a short while, attempt to find a way to escape their confines and the gang of thugs, who wear red laces in their shoes to secretly signify they’ve killed people and can be relied on to do the same in a situation such as this. Things get violent and nasty from the outset and, although the majority of the ‘heavies’ in this movie are blunt and unthinking instruments, you do have a couple of standout people in here who match the brutality of their ‘gang’ in both brains and empathy... which is one of the things which makes this movie so frightening, in some respects... the human face of the enemy.
The one of these ‘bad guys’ who has the most empathy in terms of their character, I think, and possibly the ‘weak link’ in the organisation, to some degree, is played by Macon Blair, who played the main protagonist in this director’s previous film, Blue Ruin.
It’s the brains of the organisation, however, who helps keep things really scary... because he’s a pretty well known actor who you really wouldn’t, at this stage of his career as a household name, expect to be turning up as a main character in such a gritty and violent film. His introduction is beautifully done too... if, like me, you weren’t expecting to see him in this. You just see him from behind in his first shot, where you see his balding head which fits right in with the gang of skins he leads... for it is him who we see dishing out the ‘red laces’ at one point in the picture (I don’t want to put any spoilers in this so I won't be saying more about that). It’s only a little while later that we see this main villain of the piece is played by another Star Trek regular, Patrick Stewart. And it’s actually a little genius piece of casting, to be honest. Bearing in mind the edgy feel of the script and the way the camera works to make everything seem more threatening than it normally might, Stewart brings an air of gravitas which matches and probably elevates the sense of impending doom for the rock group who have become embroiled in the murderous actions of this gang. It’s good stuff.
The film is quite gory and violent... one might go as far as to say it’s quite excessive in pushing the grizzly details of the plethora of violent acts on display here... including a penchant for head injuries which really gave me something I wasn’t expecting in the case of one of the actors near the end of the film. However, no matter how violent it gets... and it does get pretty heavy from very early on in the film, including a hand half falling off an arm while people frantically scrabble to keep it stuck on 'in situ' and a person having his torso slit open from the belly with a box cutter... the violence never seems to be less intense or gratuitous than you would expect from this kind of situation populated by these kinds of people. So... excessive but reflective, to a certain extent, I would say.
Luckily, the director manages to inject a certain amount of emotional bonding and poetic handling of most of the scenarios as they present themselves... wit the whole thing making for a very interesting movie and, at the very least, one which will keep the majority of people on the edge of their seat. I was certainly very pleased with it when I came out of the cinema and, although it’s like Blue Ruin for me in that it’s probably not a film I could sit through a second time, it’s certainly another minor classic of modern cinema from the director and people who love film will probably want to get a look at this one while it’s doing the rounds. It won’t be for absolutely everyone... especially those of a nervous disposition... but it’s definitely good cinema and a strong recommendation from me. Catch it while you can.