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Friday, July 8, 2016

Blu-ray Review: 'Green Room'

The brawling Green Room looks and sounds good in its home release.

Review by Brandon Wolfe and Matt Cummings

The independent bloodbath Green Room didn't make a lot of waves when it was released in theaters earlier this year. In fact, its paltry $3.2m haul might suggest that the film was barely worth the effort. However, those who take a chance here might be rewarded with one of the best films of 2016. The Blu-ray release makes a good case for your attention, with good video/audio but an incomplete set of supplements.

The Movie - 4/5
The Ain’t Rights, a punk band from D.C., are doing an unceremonious tour of the Pacific Northwest in their ramshackle van. The hard-luck quartet – Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) – find themselves playing sparsely populated gigs that net them a paltry $6 a man and are reduced to syphoning off gas to remain on the road. After a mohawked college DJ (David W. Thompson) takes pity on them, he sets them up with a gig just outside of Portland that he promises will pay a decent wage. The catch: the venue is a skinhead bar located deep in the woods. But a gig’s a gig, and the Ain’t Rights aren’t in a position to be choosy.

Green Room never really builds much in the way of characterization for any of the bandmates (Reece being something of a hothead is the closest we get), but their situation is nuanced to an almost painful degree. The filthy van, the scuzbucket clubs, the seedy patrons and the overall ignominy inherent to the touring process of a punk band struggling to build a name, all of it has a lived-in feel of authenticity. In these early scenes, the film paints a fascinatingly wart-covered portrait of life on the road. The Ain’t Rights have to be soldiering on for love of their craft because there don’t appear to be any other perks in the offing.

However, Green Room’s ultimate aim isn’t to explore the lowly path punk bands must tread. Once the Ain’t Rights arrive at the club in the woods and perform their set (opening bravely, if foolishly, with a cover of Dead Kennedys’ "Nazi Punks, F**k Off," which goes over with the crowd about as well as one might expect), Green Room quickly segues into a siege thriller. Pat returns to the green room to retrieve Sam’s phone and witnesses the immediate aftermath of a murder, with a young woman lying dead on the ground with a knife in her head and her friend Amber (Imogen Poots) sobbing helplessly on the sidelines. The band is locked inside the green room at gunpoint while the bouncer Gabe (Macon Blair) contacts the club’s owner, Darcy (Patrick Stewart), to get a handle on the situation. Soon, the band manages to overpower their captor and use the room as a stronghold away from Darcy’s encroaching red-laced acolytes.

From there, Green Room remains commendably tense for the duration of its running time. The Ain’t Rights and Amber have to struggle to figure out how to survive while Darcy and his men attempt to keep the situation contained. As the band members slip in and out of the green room in a series of escape attempts, the film is often unbearably nerve-wracking. Most interesting is the film’s brutality. The wounds sustained on both sides are sickeningly graphic, and the film freely kills off major characters in joltingly cavalier ways. Green Room is at its best when it’s at its nastiest.

The drawback is that the film is often very confusing, both in its staging and in the actions of its characters. The geography of the club outside of the green room is never neatly laid out, and our heroes frequently seem to have too much of a run of the place. If Darcy had simply left armed guards in the hallway outside of the green room, the situation would be resolved in his favor instantly, yet he and his men base themselves outside the building for the duration of the film, sending pit bulls inside at regular intervals. Darcy’s planning and the Ain’t Rights’ seat-of-the-pants improvising often don’t make a great deal of sense. Near the end of the film, for instance, our surviving heroes hatch a plot involving head-shaving and face paint that never makes much sense as depicted. Also, when the internal schism among the skinheads (most of which, save for Darcy, have hair) that led to the initial murder is revealed, it arrives with a half-hearted shrug.

Stewart is the big draw here, playing far against type as a villainous white supremacist, and he brings his usual gravitas to the role. Yet aside from one tossed-off epithet, Stewart never really embraces the role the way you want him to. Darcy never seems nearly as venal and frightening as he should. Stewart doesn’t allow himself to get ugly enough to really set the character apart from his house style. He remains stately and dignified in a role that really doesn’t require those qualities. He plays it safe, leaving you wishing Ben Kingsley had been deployed here in Sexy Beast mode.

Yelchin does fine work as a soft-spoken sort forced to toughen up fast, but if there is a standout in Green Room, it’s probably Poots’ Amber. Coming from a much rougher background than the band, she is the only one with a genuine tough side on display, and winds up becoming the quick-witted, merciless brains of the group. Poots infuses the role with a worldliness and intelligence that marks her as an intimidating force in spite of her size. She’s not in a punk-rock band, yet she’s the only person around who seems in any way punk-rock.

The Video – 4/5
Lionsgate presents Green Room with an MPEG-4/AVC-encoded transfer that is framed at 2.40.1. In short, the picture looks very good, considering all of the Saulnier’s visual issues. First off, Green Room is a very dark film in terms color and lighting, and Lionsgate doesn’t try to clean that up. Instead, it shows off the strong black levels, the variations in detail from one scene to the next, and the sometimes saturated color levels. Those are all tenants of Saulnier’s world, but his treatment of the actors shows just how good of a director he is. Human features – especially close ups – show off details in skin and hair, while clothing reveals sharp details. I did not notice any problems with banding aliasing, or compression, resulting in a very strong transfer from Lionsgate.

The Audio – 4/5
Green Room busts down the door with a very good DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio transfer that is quite immersive for such a small film. The track is most aggressive once the music, shooting, and violence start, enveloping you in a fairly detailed wall of sound. The center channel features crystal clear dialogue, which dials it up leaving other effects to play in the background. I always prefer a separated audio track, as the inclusion of other voices can create that wall. The left and right channels handle an impressive mix of music and effects, while the surrounds hit you hard by building up the atmosphere and suspense. By the time the action arrives, you feel like you’re in the middle of it, which is really the point of a film like this. I noticed no issues here (distortion, etc), leading me to commend Lionsgate once more for a very nice job. With Green Room, it’s clear that the studio has adopted a philosophy similar to other studios: every film matters in its home release. That is readily apparent here, and it’s much appreciated.

The Supplements – 4/5
Green Room contains two supplements, both of which are worth your time. The video is presented in HD, but it’s the only additional material available:
  • Audio Commentary with Director Jeremy Saulnier - The director takes us through an informative discussion of what it took to make this picture. He discusses every aspect of production, from story origins to changes that were made during production. He details the terrific casting, as well as the challenges of shooting on location in and around Portland, Oregon.

  • Into the Pit: Making Green Room – Featurette: This is a traditional EPX piece, complete with Saulnier and cast interviews, along with behind the scenes footage. It’s a bit insightful, but nothing you could have taken from the outdoors conditions and themes within the film.

  • Trailers: In addition to trailers for Green Room, we also get several before the menu appears.

    Our evaluation copy arrived as a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, complete with a Digital HD version of the movie. The slipcase is simple but effective. Considering the small haul this movie produced, hats off to Lionsgate for gifting us with a slipcase here.

    The Bottom Line – 4/5
    Green Room is a bloody bath of a good time, even though its story and geography surrounding the action is a bit hard to initially figure out. However, Lionsgate’s release makes up for any shortcomings, with good sound and audio, along with a very informative commentary track by the director. Green Room isn’t going to make any Oscar lists, but it’s a mostly effective thriller that could be one of the best of 2016. If you have a few extra bucks and are looking for an underground winner, try this one out. This release comes RECOMMENDED.

    Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe. Also, follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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