Friday, August 18, 2017

Nazi Punks Fuck Off – GREEN ROOM

I’m a pretty chill guy.  I try to be open minded and listen to all points of view.  I try not to make generalizations.  But man, do I hate Nazis.  It’s not a bold statement. Just about everybody hates Nazis, or the concept of Nazis, at least.  It is an unequivocal subject.  Their beliefs and tactics are too vile for a rational person to be on the fence about.  They are the human equivalent of genital warts, you cannot be okay with that shit.  In fact, the only people who don’t hate Nazis are Nazis.  And the current President of the United States, apparently.  But do you know who really hates Nazis?  Jeremy Saulnier’s brutal skinhead siege film, GREEN ROOM.

The Capsule:
The Ain’t Rights, composed of Pat (Anton Yelchin, in one of his last roles),  Sam (Alia Shawkat), Tiger (Callum Turner), and Reece (Joe Cole), are an uncompromising indie punk band dedicated only to their music and the live experience.  They are so uncompromising, in fact, that nobody has heard of them and they have to siphon gas from parking lots of small town skating rinks just to keep their van going.  Desperate for cash, they accept a gig sight unseen at what turns out to be a skinhead club deep in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest.  After a tense but uneventful set, the band is almost out the door when Pat accidentally stumbles across a murder scene.  Then everything goes to shit.  Pat and the others barricade themselves in the venue’s green room, along with the murder victim’s low key psycho friend, Amber (Imogen Poots in a startling and unflattering haircut).  On the other side of the door, scary Nazi headmaster, Darcy (Patrick Steward), tries to negotiate a peaceful resolution while methodically planning their execution.  When the kids don’t go for it, Darcy brings in his jackbooted machete thugs and attack dogs for extra persuasion.  Every desperate escape attempt ends with the band back in the green room, minus a few members.  Outnumbered and outgunned, their only hope of getting out is to break the rules of the game.

Jeremy Saulnier knows how to make people uncomfortable.  Just like his previous film, BLUE RUIN, he excels in putting sympathetic underdogs in situations way, way out of their depth.  Here he takes an interesting tactic of making his protagonists a punk band.  Like their music, they seem spiky, loud, and aggressive, but we quickly learn that it is all just a front.  Asked in an interview to name their “desert island” band, they all come up with appropriately heavy answers like Black Sabbath and The Misfits (except Pat, who can never decide on anything), only to later confess their real picks are along the lines of Simon & Garfunkel and Prince.  Beneath their tough talk and true punk aesthetic they they are just a bunch of kids.  So when they roll into the skinhead compound, totally unprepared for what they’ve gotten themselves into, it feels like a line of ducklings waddling into a kennel of German Shepherds.  

Even though they are petrified, the kids are ballsy enough to state their opinion with their opening song, a cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”.   We’ll take your money, and maybe we’ll entertain you, but we do not like you.  For a while, it seems to be going pretty well.  Aside from the spitting, cussing, and sneering, the crowd doesn’t give them any real trouble.  The relative civility comes to an end really quickly once Pat stumbles on the murder scene.  The skinheads close on the kids like a bear trap.  One second they are walking down the hall with cash in their hands, the next they are locked in a room with a hairless Sasquatch (Eric Edelstein) pointing a gun in their faces.  It’s a bad turn.

Things get so much worse when Darcy arrives.  Goddamn, who knew Capt. Picard could be such a scary motherfucker?  All the tattooed, hyper violent hate-freaks lurking around the club can’t hold a candle to the menace that radiates off Darcy.  He is the ultimate evil dad, turning his gullible, disaffected flock into monsters.  They look at him with reverence, and lap up any scraps of approval he throws their way.  He is the voice of authority around those parts, calm, stern, and horribly, deceptively reasonable.  The Ain’t Rights want to believe him when he says he just wants them out of his place of business (which he does, just not alive).  He doesn’t make threats, he makes compromises that seem in their best interest.  He is so good at persuasion that he convinces the band that handing over their only weapon is a logical act, and poor Pat almost loses a hand for it.  

That is another thing that Saulnier is great at, sucker punching us with extreme, visceral violence.  As you may know, I like my horror gory, and the more excessive the better.  GREEN ROOM’s violence is excessive, but it is not fun.  Nor is it designed to punish you with extended suffering, torture porn style.  The bloody business happening here is sudden, brutal, and very realistic.  The violence also feels very unfair, since the worst of it is inflicted on the least deserving people.  As impressive as the make-up effects are, it is something I didn’t want to see.  I especially didn’t want to see anything happen to feisty Alia Shawkat.  She was Maeby from Arrested Development!  They can’t hurt Maeby!  Well, maybe they can.

On a slightly less realistic note, duct tape is apparently the miracle medical treatment.  Pat’s hand is practically hanging from the wrist after he pulls it back through a door, but give it a good wrap in duct tape and his arm is as good as new!  Works on bite wounds as well.  Makes you wonder why people don’t keep a roll on them at all times in these movies. 

The attitude towards violence is the marked difference between the Nazi and non-Nazi punks.  Violence comes as easy as breathing to the militant skinheads.  For them, getting to stab someone is like being thrown a dog treat, a reward for loyal service.  They are always looking for the opportunity to spill blood for their cause, or for any reason.  Darcy's club is one big, fucked up candy store to them.  

The Ain’t Rights are on the other end of the spectrum.  They are rightly horrified by not only the violence used against them, but by what they are forced to dish out as well.  Reece initially seems excited to put his jiu jitsu routines to practical use on Big Justin, but he doesn't know what to do when it goes past the point of a competition tap out.  We get that classic “tooling up” thrill when Sam breaks open the tip of a florescent tube to make a spear, only to immediately waste it with a panicked throw into an empty hall.  Even Pat, our main hero, is utterly useless in a fight.  His best weapon isn’t a machete, it’s stage presence (“Odin himself”).

The only reason anyone gets out alive is Amber.  She's the hybrid.  Although she is insulted to be called a Nazi (and doesn't care any better for the nickname Ilsa), she is undeniably part of that world.  She’s lost faith with it, though, even before seeing her friend murdered in front of her eyes.  Switching sides doesn't entirely take the stink off.  Her motivation is a mix of jaded vengeance and self-destruction.  Like her former buddies, violence is her natural form of expression.  She is more than willing to cross the line when needed.  In fact, I don’t think she even knows there is a line.  When the Ain’t Rights are freaking out about how to tell if one of the thugs is dead or just faking, Amber skips taking a pulse and slits open his stomach with a box cutter, as casually as unzipping a jacket.  A jacket made of meat.  She would make a terrible paramedic, in my opinion.        

Of course, the most frightening thing about the movie is that these kinds of diseased assholes actually exist.  There are no Hannibal Lectors or Jigsaws in the world, but there are Darcys.  And thanks to the narcissistic bully running America who cherry picks which evil he denounces, they’ve been emboldened to crawl out of the shadows and compounds and rocks they’ve been festering under and openly praise this country’s racist roots.  

Believe me, I’d much rather have a few erudite cannibals running around than a bunch of Nazis.  Cannibals are easier to stomach.  I get the concept of why there is racism.  It’s all about fear.  Fear that the Other will take your stuff.  It’s primitive and stupid, but I understand it.  I understand being insecure (happens every time I hit the publish button).  I see how the Darcys of the world can use religion as a recruitment tool, twisting it until it runs completely counter to its intent.  What I don’t get is how anyone, anywhere, could chose to be a Nazi.  Especially in America.  Sure, maybe some of these kids are too young to have any real connection to the horrors the first Nazis inflicted, and they might buy into horseshit conspiracy theory like denying the Holocaust, but as Americans, they had to have fucking seen RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.  Who can watch that movie and think, “forget Indiana Jones, I want to be like the dude whose face is melted off”?  Do you know why his face is melted off?  Because he was a Nazi, and EVERYONE HATES NAZIS!  

GREEN ROOM, while most definitely anti-Nazi, doesn't paint them in broad strokes. There is some room for redemption.  Amber was part of a dissenting faction of Darcy’s group that wanted out.  Gabe (Macon Blair), the sensitive Nazi, starts off as a true believer, but comes to realize he is not cut out for that life.  Saulnier doesn't glorify them just for going against their rotten kind, though.  Gabe is a weak man who let a lot of people die.  Amber is mostly out for herself.  For whatever reason, they chose to be involved in that life.  They are not very fine people.  They did make the effort, at least.

The saddest sight in the movie is also its most apt metaphor.  A dying attack dog slowly trods down the road in search of his master.  He walks right by Pat and Amber without even a glance and lies down beside the body of the Trainer.  He’s a vicious killer, but without anyone left to give him commands, he just wants the comfort of the only person who cared for him.  Good dog, bad training.

Oh man, sorry to be such a downer with this one.  I’m usually not so political, angry, or cussy, but it’s been a rough week.  With the state of things, I felt it was important to say something, even in my own dumb way.  Come back next time and I promise I’ll have more lighthearted weirdness for you.

Unless you are a Nazi punk, in which case FUCK OFF!

C Chaka

Friday, August 11, 2017

Retro Schizocinema: The Woods Edition

Hello Faithful or Semi-Faithful Readers,

I have just returned from a camping expedition to the deep, dark forest where I successfully avoided being killed for an entire week!  There were some dicey moments, but none of them had to do with a crazed killer or ferocious animal (unless you count our overly enthusiastic dog).  My plan was to write up something on location, but apparently the point of a family vacation is to actually spend time with your family, so I took my first break from weekly Schizocinema posts in over a year to just have fun with my lovely wife and awesome kids.  Plus, I was afraid my lovely wife would throw my phone into the river.

Incidentally, I can't believe no one has made a horror movie were a guy checking Twitter wanders straight into the killer's cabin without noticing.  It would be completely believable.  If someone has already, please let me know on Twitter.

Those looking for new material will be rewarded (?) next Friday with a regularly scheduled post, but to tide you over, take the opportunity to skinny dip into the archives for a classic batch of Killed in the Woods pieces.  There might be something here you missed.





RAVENOUS (okay, I'm stretching on that one) 

CANNIBAL TERROR (really stretching, but it's mostly in the woods)


And yes, I recognize that it would have been a great idea to do this retro idea last week and lead up to a brand new post of EXISTS today, but total lack of planning and forethought is part of my charm. 

Until next time, enjoy the great outdoors.

C Chaka

Friday, August 4, 2017

Big(foot) Trouble - EXISTS

This summer I have found myself going into the woods often, despite being specifically warned against it.  I love the woods, though, and camping is cheaper than hoteling, so I’m risking it.  I’m not worried about escaped lunatics, feral murderers, or deformed hillbillies, I’ve seen more than enough woods based slashers to know all their tricks.  Grizzlies are another matter (is it run or play dead, or climb a tree?), but since I’m on the East Coast, not much chance of seeing one.  Sasquatches, on the other hand, are more troubling.  They have never been proven NOT to be on the East Coast, so anything is possible.  According to the experts, Bigfoots (feet?) are only hostile when provoked, which is reassuring.  I still have my doubts, though, so for additional research I watched the 2014 nature documentary on the subject, Eduardo Sanchez’ EXISTS.

Two young, attractive couples, and their fifth wheel Brian, head deep into the woods with dreams of revelry and BMX stunts.  Distracted by some late-night car shenanigans, Matt (Samuel Davis) accidentally clips something big on the side of the road.  Finding no sign of the unlucky critter, the kids continue to Matt and brother Brian’s (Chris Osborn) family cabin.  Matt, his girl Dora (Dora Madison), alpha jock Todd (Roger Edwards), and snobby Liz (Denise Williamson) go about having sexy fun, while Brian sets up a lot of cameras.  Not to be pervy (though he does that, too), but to record proof of the bigfoot that his Uncle Bob (Jeff Schwan) swears lives around those parts.  Brian gets his wish in a big, hairy way when the legendary creature lays siege on their cabin.  Supposedly non-aggressive, this particular beastie has a serious bone to pick (or snap) with these irresponsible youngins, and nothing is going to stand its way.  

I must admit, I have not always had high regards for the found footage genre.  My first experience with the style goes all the way back to its birth, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, which Sanchez co-directed.  I went in with high expectations, after devouring the brilliant “is it real?” marketing and hype, and I left utterly pissed.  My brain wouldn’t accept the narrative style.  It didn’t seem like a real movie to me.  None of the found footage movies that followed did anything to warm me to the style.  If anything, they lowered my opinion of it.  Then came CLOVERFIELD and it finally clicked.  Re-watching BLAIR WITCH ten years later was a completely different experience.  I connected with the rawness and immediacy of the performances.  I understood their fear and frustration.  This time it drew me in.  Found footage is still not my favorite style, but in the hands of a good director, it can be extremely effective.

With EXISTS, Sanchez utilized the best of both worlds.  It’s still found footage, but there are so many cameras running simultaneously that it allows for more breathing room and variety. There is enough coverage for reactions and establishing shots with multiple POVs.  The edit can be snappy and kinetic without constantly shaking the camera.  The real-time immediacy still comes through and it even makes sense story wise.  Brian is a total voyeur, more comfortable capturing life than living it.  Given his obsession with catching a bigfoot on video, it is reasonable that he would lug a bag full of Go-Pros and set them up everywhere, continuously recording.  There are cameras on bikes, helmets, dashboards.  The fixed cameras help alleviate my biggest issue with found footage: if something scary is coming after you, stop effing with the camera and run.  Now they can do just that and still get the shot.    

The story begins in classic TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE style with a carload of kids taking a road trip somewhere they shouldn´t be going.  You get a clue to the group dynamic right away, as Brian’s friends play a little prank on him as he sleeps by trying to set his beard on fire.  Now, it has been a while since I was in college, so I might be out of touch with the kind of innocent hazing the kids are into today, but WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?   What kind of assholes set someone’s beard on fire for a joke?  “Ha ha, you should have seen the look on your face when I set it on fire!  Classic burn, bro!”  Obviously these knuckleheads have not seen THE BURNING.  Setting people on fire is never as funny as you expect it to be.  

Sure enough, the potentially scarring tomfoolery is the distraction which leads to the accident starting the whole mess.  The movie takes its time ramping up the action.  Aside from some mournful wailing in the woods, the beginning is just getting to know the cast.  This can be a bit painful, as it has already been established that these guys are assholes.  Also, they use the words “bro” and “pimp” entirely too much for comfort.  They´re just dumb college kids, nothing on the nerve-grating level of an Eli Roth cast, but I still wouldn’t want to hang out with them for long.

Brian is clearly the most sympathetic one.  He’s an outsider from the start, more comfortable talking to the camera than to the others.  They don’t go out of their way to make him feel welcome, either.  Even Matt sides with his friends over his brother.  Todd is the primary instigator of dickish behavior, making fun of Brian’s bigfoot obsession, but Matt goes along with it.  Dora comes off a little better.  She at least tries to make a connection and encourages Brian to join in the fun.  They have a sweet scene together where she comforts Brian, who is despondent over Matt's disappearance and presumed pummeling.

Of course, Brian isn’t exactly helping his case when he does stuff like record Todd and Liz having sex in the woods or wander around shouting bigfoot calls while totally baked in the middle of the night.  Plus, he is utterly useless when shit really goes down.  He gets one shining moment of bravery when trying to help his brother, but he’s still mostly a dweeb.

Bigfoot makes her (yes, a Lady Bigfoot) presence known gradually.  The kids hear ominous howling and something bumping against the cabin walls, discover their car has been murdered, and catch the glimpse of a face in the window.  I was afraid I was headed into PARANORMAL ACTIVITY territory, all build up and no payoff.  Thankfully, I was wrong.  EXISTS delivers Bigfoot in a big way.  The real carnage begins when Matt bikes out to get help and discovers exactly how fast a giant hairy beast can run (the answer is faster than a dude on a bike).  Then she heads back to the cabin and things really go crazy.

Previous cinematic depictions of bigfoots range from benevolent (HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS), to misunderstood (LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK), to malicious (NIGHT OF THE DEMON).  They are always big, hairy (with the weird exception of NIGHT OF THE DEMON), and strong.  No matter how much I love the movies, the hokey and hoaxy subject matter means I always see bigfoot as a guy in a suit.  The creature in EXISTS, however, is a straight up beast.  Her raw strength and ferocity came across in a way I’ve never experienced in this genre.  The physical performance of 6’7 actor Brian Steele, who specializes in playing enormous aliens, demons, and other nasty things is outstanding, but the aggressive sound design is also a major factor.  Frantic camerawork (purposefully) keeps us from getting a good long look at her early in the rampage, but just hearing her is actually more effective.  She has a savage, reverberating roar, and every blow she makes against the cabin walls sounds like a wrecking ball.  There is a great scene where Todd gets all pumped up and macho, blindly firing his shotgun into the trees.  The creature retaliates by hurling head sized rocks at them that sound like cannonballs whizzing by.  

The thing that really makes her feel so dangerous is her relentlessness.  Once she commits to taking these little bastards out, nothing is going to stop her.  The old wooden cabin offers as much protection as a paper bag.  Every time the kids think they have safely barricaded themselves, she comes at them from a different side.  Even hiding down in the concealed EVIL DEAD style cellar only buys them a slight reprieve before she finds them and starts tearing through the trap door.  A lucky shotgun blast sends her packing long enough for the survivors to get out of the ruined cabin, but as soon as they are forced to trek through the woods, she is stalking their every move.

These poor saps are not only outclassed physically, they are outsmarted as well.  This bigfoot is a clever girl.  She knows to destroy their means of escape, to pick off anyone trying to bring help, and to leave them in the dark by taking out the cabin generator.  When Todd’s shotgun makes direct attacks dangerous, she lures them into the confines of her den using the screams of a wounded friend.  Honestly, these guys would be out of their league confronting an angry raccoon.  Bigfoot might have felt a little embarrassed for them, when she wasn’t busy bashing them to death.

The climax unleashes another unrelenting wave of destruction, resulting in an astonishing physical stunt that blows me away every time I see it.  This is the optimal use of found footage, in my opinion.  The real time pacing and genuine reactions give it a certain verisimilitude that make it feel like the events are actually happening.  It helps that a lot of it really is happening, thanks to the low budget, "lets just do it and see what we get" nature of the movie.  Even with all the new technology, it's a nice callback to the old grindhouse days of practical--and slightly dangerous--filmmaking.  Suffice it to say, if you find yourself chased by a bigfoot, a cliff side camper is not the best place to take shelter.

Eventually we learn the reason for her rampage.  [Spoiler]  Brian, the last one left, finds out the thing they hit at the beginning was her baby bigfoot (barely a mediumfoot, really).  Mama Bigfoot pushes his head down into the fly covered corpse like she was disciplining a dog.  When he shows contrition and accepts what he has coming to him, she shows herself to be the bigger (sort of) person and lets him live.  

 Of course, I came up with an alternative theory that she felt bad about how douchey everyone was treating Brian, killed them all, and adopted him as her new son.  Now they live together happily in the woods, where she only occasionally smacks him around when he says “pimp” too much.  Basically, a happy ending either way.

All of which leads me to conclude I have nothing to fear from bigfoots in the wilderness, as long as I watch where I’m driving and don’t set anyone’s beard on fire.  I think I can manage that.

C Chaka