Green Room presents a stark depiction of brutal violence. The film’s main characters are forced to engage in horrific acts that are beyond the comparatively ‘safe’ boundaries of their shows. The film presents a conflict between the desire to incite violent action when it is simulated, and the disgust these characters feel when they are coerced into violence that they did not willfully instigate. In depicting these two different responses to the same emotion, the film suggests the negative implications and extremities within their ‘scene’ without condemning punk music, and without reducing the antagonists of the film to one-dimensional monsters. Beyond this interpretation, the film is effective simply because of its intensity, and it’s unsettling in ways that other movies within the genre (perhaps intentionally) overlook. The film does not hesitate in dragging out the discomfort and pain of the main characters and the audience, yet, surprisingly, it does not depend solely on the exploitation of the audience for its efficacy.
The band plays their first set at a diner, where customers look uncomfortable and waitresses walk around the band’s equipment with trays in their hands. At their second set, they play for a crowd of punk fans who shove and kick in an extended slow-motion sequence that revels in the spectacle of violence and a sense of communal aggression. This romanticized sequence directly precedes the instigating action of the film, where the group has to escape horrific acts of violence inflicted upon them by a gang of white supremacists. The glorified display that the crowd engages in establishes the relatively naive outlook and the ‘vision’ of the band, which is to represent the aesthetic of violence without implicating their active participation in it.
The characters are quickly forced to choose between their established personas and their purely instinctual selves when they witness the brutal reality of this violence. The filmmaker presents the characters’ contradictions in a way that’s endearing and familiar without condescending to them. The slow-motion scene invites the audience to participate in the spectacle of aggression and to appreciate the emotional response that the band can evoke. As we watch the mass of bodies and limbs flying everywhere, we understand that maybe aggression can be beautiful and primal and achieved only through physical catharsis.
This understanding is abruptly cut short. As the film continues, the audience also becomes barricaded in that little room as the characters struggle to escape their violent surroundings by committing equally horrific actions. Appropriately, there is no catharsis for the audience when the characters of this film can only stumble around in an instinct to survive. In a subversive move made by the filmmaker, the main characters are not calculated or vengeful. They panic easily, they want to go home, and they don’t immediately understand what is happening. Most importantly, they are unable to predict what will happen to them.
Green Room relied on some familiar narrative expectations in places where I would have loved to see them deconstructed, including one character anecdote and extended sequence where the film nearly ‘lost me’ because the scene was so glaringly conventional compared to the other subversive aspects of the film. Jeremy Saulnier’s second feature, Blue Ruin (2013), undermined many action-movie narrative tropes with a more confident and interesting execution.
Green Room was gruesome in effective ways, but unfortunately, I wonder if the ‘shock value’ of the visuals is what stands out the most after watching the film. If a film contains memorable moments, it’s partially successful, but it’s unfortunate that these scenes happened to be the most obviously shocking. The audience’s role as a voyeur can only be extended so far before it seems torturous, but thankfully, it didn’t venture into that territory too frequently. Overall, this film was entertaining and well-made. It was uncomfortable and effective without being manipulative, which is a significant accomplishment in a genre consistently populated with unrealistic and unemotional characters.