It was the 1995 Adrian Tomine story “Pink Frosting,” from his Optic Nerve comic, that I first learned about “kissing the curb,” a shocking act of violence brought to visual life, thanks to Edward Norton, in 1998’s American History X. Having someone kick the back of your head while your open mouth rests against the edge of the curb, thus relieving you of all your teeth, was a horrific image that I still walk around with over 20 years later. We all have our squeamish pressure points, be it teeth, or maybe eyes, perhaps fingernails: some scenario that sends that unmistakable frisson rolling through our body. I would hazard a guess and say that director Jeremy Saulnier is very familiar with those pressure points, because his new film Green Room, the follow-up to his breakout indie hit Blue Ruin, is one long, wicked meditation on that very sensation.
The first rule of Green Room is: You do not talk about Green Room. Well, we can at least set the stage, as it were. Hardcore punk band the Ain’t Rights, consisting of singer Tiger (Turner), guitarist Sam (Shawkat), bassist Pat (Yelchin), and drummer Reece (Cole), are making their way across the Pacific Northwest, barely, playing shit gigs and relying on the kindness of fans for places to crash. When an opportunity to play a show at a rural Oregon club for some actual money presents itself, they hop to the offer. Knowing full well that their audience is a bunch of neo-Nazi skinheads, the Ain’t Rights kick off their set with Dead Kennedys' classic “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” But that’s merely a menacing prelude to the terror that awaits them, after a wrong-place, wrong-time incident puts them in the middle of a seriously scary situation.
Saulnier and co. have crafted a gleefully merciless update on Deliverance, except instead of city folk vs. hillbillies, it’s punk rockers vs. neo-Nazis, and it is one of the most brutal, visceral films to come along in quite some time. Special shout-outs to Imogen Poots, whose Amber basically steals the show as a cynical neo-Nazi outlier, and Patrick Stewart as leader Darcy, a quietly menacing presence, always several moves ahead of everyone else. Green Room may not be for everyone, but should you be up for it, it is a tense, lovely, right kick in the teeth.
For an interview with actor/co-producer Macon Blair, see “Mopping Up the Red in Green Room,” April 22.
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