GREEN ROOM (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal Graphic Violence, Gory Images, Language and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier

Written by: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart, Macon Blair & Mark Webber

Despite having only three features under his belt, director/writer Jeremy Saulnier has slowly, but surely been making a name for himself in the independent film scene. Saulnier started his short filmography with cheesy horror-comedy MURDER PARTY and followed that up with acclaimed thriller BLUE RUIN. He’s now back with the heavily hyped GREEN ROOM. This simple, to-the-point survival-horror flick is vicious, intense, and shocking. It also heavily relies on dumb horror movie victim logic, which slightly detracts from the smarter, more effective pieces of this otherwise entertaining thriller.

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Punk band “The Ain’t Rights” (played by Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner) live off-the-grid and do the best they can to make ends meet. After their latest gig falls through, the four friends/bandmates take a quick job at an isolated club in the middle of the woods. It’s obvious that the venue is a skinhead joint (complete with swastika graffiti and white power stickers), but the band needs the money so they complete their set anyway. On the way out, they accidentally stumble into something they weren’t supposed to see: a woman with a knife sticking out of her head. Soon enough, “The Ain’t Rights” and the deceased’s friend (Imogen Poots) find themselves fighting for their lives against enraged, heavily armed neo-Nazis.

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GREEN ROOM is a tense ride that frequently had me on the edge of my seat. Jeremy Saulnier’s screenplay is smart enough to thwart expectations in certain areas and avoids lots of exposition as a result. Smaller details are set up early on and it’s up to the viewer to connect the dots revolving around certain aspects of the skinhead secret society. There are a couple of moments that deliberately seem to be heading into overly familiar clichéd territory and then totally shoot those notions down with shocking violence that received audible gasps from myself and the rest of the audience. The screenplay is far from flawless though as the bandmates aren’t well-developed or entirely believable. As a result, a character will meet a horrible end and their absence doesn’t feel like a big loss. However, the shocking effect of how they met their demise manages to linger in the air.

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It’s frustrating to see a script, with some very clever writing, resort to idiotic character decisions in order to further things along. Besides these characters not being relatable or necessarily likable, they are not too bright either. Common sense doesn’t fully kick in during certain intense scenes and characters are constantly making really dumb (borderline unbelievable) choices as a result. These distracting bits didn’t dissuade me from enjoying the film as a whole though, because there are a lot of remaining factors to like.

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The cinematography is slick and well-shot. There’s none of the shaky-cam that we see all too often in modern action and horror flicks. I absolutely love the detailed club setting. Tension builds naturally through simply watching the carefully constructed on-screen (occasionally, off-screen) chaos. Speaking of which, this movie’s set pieces are friggin’ insane. The trapped “Ain’t Rights” aren’t exactly left with a lot of bullets or options. As a result, we get to see box-cutters, rusty bits of metal, a microphone, and other nasty objects creatively employed as improvised weapons. Bones are broken. Flesh is cut. Blood is spilled. This is one friggin’ violent movie, but it never goes unbelievably over-the-top in its gory mayhem.

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As I mentioned before, the protagonists aren’t exactly fleshed-out. You could shuffle Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner around and it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference in the proceedings. The skinheads are far more interesting to watch and that probably shouldn’t be the case. These colorful neo-Nazi baddies distinctly stand out in their roles, be it the hulking doorman armed with a massive gun or the dog trainer who has flesh-eating pooches. You can easily tell these antagonists apart. Saulnier film regular Macon Blair (villain in MURDER PARTY, protagonist in BLUE RUIN) is great as Gabe, a staff member who attempts to keep a level-head in spite of the copious amount of death surrounding him.

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GREEN ROOM’s show-stopping performance comes from Patrick Stewart (of all people) as sociopathic, strategic skinhead leader Darcy. Darcy is remarkably calm and calculating in how he wages a mini-war upon the ill-equipped punk band. Stewart’s neo-Nazi leader has a deliberately dialed down way of speaking that somehow makes him even more frightening to watch. If you passed this guy on the street, you wouldn’t look twice because he does not seem like a psychopath. That’s exactly why this “reasonable” club owner makes for such a great villain though.

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Though it relies too heavily on dumb character decisions and the protagonists aren’t exactly interesting people, GREEN ROOM is a lot of bloody fun. The beautiful visuals, intense atmosphere, and gory set pieces make the film worth watching, if you’re into this sort of thing. Patrick Stewart impressively knocks it out of the park as the neo-Nazi main villain and that’s a role I bet you never expected to see him play. The writing also shines through as very smart in places, mostly when “The Ain’t Rights” aren’t being morons. Though I feel this film would have been better with less stupid horror movie victim logic, GREEN ROOM is an entertaining blast of mayhem, violence, and shocks.

Grade: B

BLUE RUIN (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence, and Language

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Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier

Written by: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack & Eve Plumb

Director/writer Jeremy Saulnier burst onto the independent filmmaking scene with his low-budget horror comedy MURDER PARTY (a film that I found to be decent, but definitely with its fair share of problems). A good chunk of time has passed since them, but Saulnier has finally returned with his sophomore effort: BLUE RUIN. This less-is-more revenge thriller shows that Saulnier has acquired lots of improvement in storytelling and an eye for the camera over the years. Though I wouldn’t call this movie groundbreaking or amazing, it’s a suspenseful good time for fans of revenge stories.

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Dwight Evans is a vagrant living out of his car and scavenging what he can from deserted houses and dirty trash cans. One morning, Dwight is informed that the man responsible for killing his parents has been released from prison. Desperate for a long-deserved vengeance, Dwight arms himself with a knife and travels to off the murderer. Unfortunately, he’s not exactly in expert in the art of killing someone and the young man’s family comes knocking for revenge. A quiet war breaks out as Dwight tries to protect his remaining relatives.

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Macon Blair was one of the better parts of MURDER PARTY and he’s given his time to shine here as Dwight. Blair brings the unconventional protagonist to life that leaves you questioning whether or not you should be rooting for him. Dwight is a cold-blooded killer, but can admit to his sins and wants to do right in keeping his family safe. The film gets graphically violent at points, but isn’t a bloodbath from beginning to end though. Instead, there are good stretches that simply build up to the next vicious confrontation between Dwight and another foe. These lapses between the actual revenge make the violence that much more powerful. This isn’t a glamourized or glossy action flick, but rather a gritty story that crawls through the ugly and dirty reality that revenge never leaves anyone clean. It’s a downward spiral of meaningless escalating violence in which two separate families are ripped apart in different ways.

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I’m making this movie sound brilliant, but what’s wrong with it you might ask? Sometimes the slow burning pace can trudge to being downright glacial. There are points in this movie where I wished the film would either pick up certain plot developments faster or have a shorter running time. It’s pretty much the same big problem I had with MURDER PARTY, though this movie is superior on every level. The ending also winds up petering out before what should have been an emotionally devastating finale hits. I liked the conclusion, but thought there could have been a lot more milked from it.

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BLUE RUIN is a simple, solid revenge thriller that definitely isn’t for everyone. This is a well-shot film about human ugliness and how violence begets violence. The message is as old as time (look at any of Shakespeare’s tragedies if you want examples), but still resonates with power. Both Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair (working together for the second time) have drastically improved in their abilities. Though it’s too long for its own good, BLUE RUIN should satisfy those craving an old-fashioned revenge tale where nobody walks away in a redeemable light.

Grade: B

MURDER PARTY (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 19 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier

Written by: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Chris Sharp, Macon Blair, Stacy Rock, Skei Saulnier, Paul Goldblatt, William Lacey & Alex Barnett

MURDER PARTY was made on a shoe-string budget and doesn’t make any qualms about that. Despite being an amateur filmmaker/screenwriter, Jeremy Saulnier displays a remarkably professional sensibility in his feature debut. It’s not without its problems (two big ones), but MURDER PARTY is probably most enjoyable as a party movie (slightly ironic given the title and plot). It’s not necessarily a film to stick on by your lonesome, which is probably why I didn’t care for it as much as other people have. That’s not to say that I didn’t like MURDER PARTY. I liked it just fine, but it’s only an okay flick. This is nothing too special about it, but it’s alright.

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Chris is a loser planning on spending Halloween night alone on his couch watching B-flicks with a bowl of candy corn. His plans change once he comes across envelope on the street that holds an invitation to a “Murder Party.” Chris puts together a makeshift costume of cardboard boxes and arrives at the promising Halloween party only to find that the Murder Party is completely literal. Chris has walked into an abandoned warehouse where a gang of psycho-hipsters plan on killing him for their performance art. That scenario sets itself up for a lot of good comedy and possible gore. The film definitely relies far more on laughs than blood. There are a couple of messy moments, but the dialogue of these pompous assholes make up the majority of the film. That’s both its blessing and its curse.

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MURDER PARTY has a good opening and a strong conclusion. The biggest problem in the story is the tedious middle section. Evil characters are colorful douchebags with their own unique costumes, while Chris is more like an anonymous nobody who isn’t given a personality to begin with. In fact, he really doesn’t say much through the film. This is partially from being gagged for a good portion of it, but mainly from being a boring protagonist. The hipsters are mostly defined by their costumes (all of which are creative to some degree) and personality traits. Their attitudes automatically told me what kind of jerks these people were. If you hate pretentious douchebags, then you’ll be rooting for these incompetent psychos to die a horrible death. The film does deliver in some creative kills, but I actually found a few demises to be underwhelming (though the first one is hilarious).

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Little bits of quirky humor actually got me laughing way more than the deliberate attempts at comedy. Essentially, MURDER PARTY is running off the one joke premise of murderous hipsters. While the movie does get a decent amount of steam off that, the middle feels really dull. A game of extreme truth or dare becomes an agonizingly boring sequence that’s entirely free of a single chuckle and it lasts for almost 10 minutes. Small touches in a chase scene involving a conveyor belt or the villains fumbling with their weapons in silly ways did make me laugh pretty hard. The final 25 minutes offer a lot of pay-off, but the unnecessarily slow-paced middle section seems too long and left a bad taste in my mouth already. It greatly benefits MURDER PARTY that the film goes out on a really high note, but its not enough to overlook that bad stretch in the middle of the flick.

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In the end, I’d rank MURDER PARTY alongside another low-budget Halloween indie by the title of SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER. It’s an apt comparison because both films are cheap, silly, stupid, get a fair amount of laughs, and also run a little too long while following uninteresting protagonists. In fact, SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER and MURDER PARTY would be ideal films to stick in the background of a Halloween party. There might be a couple of people watching the whole thing, but they’re more like films that someone might occasionally glance at and chuckle before going back to their conversation with friends. It’s entertaining enough and definitely has its moments, but the middle stretch and lack of a compelling lead make for just an okay flick overall.

Grade: C+

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