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 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!