Green Room – Film Review

Green Room

A punk band fighting to become neither mainstream nor anonymous end a low-key tour with a last-minute gig at a club for neo-Nazis. As they arrive at the club they are hesitant and unsettled but decide to not back down, instead planning to simply play the gig, grab their money, and get out. Having successfully played the gig and grabbed the money one member of the band sees something he shouldn’t have and the final part of the plan, the getting out, becomes all the more important and all the less likely. Trapped in the club’s green room the band are up against a horde of violent skinheads, fighting dogs, and a ruthless leader in the shape of Patrick Stewart. What follows is ninety minutes of nerve shredding terror and bloody violence.

Jeremy Saulnier shot into the world’s consciousness last year with his second feature Blue Ruin. The film impressed with its grim story of revenge, stripped down aesthetic, and shockingly unpredictable narrative. Saulnier was flagged as a writer and director to keep you eye on and with Green Room you will be glad we all did. Green Room is a beautifully dark film that quickly ratchets up the tension and never ever lets you take a breath. Repeatedly what you considered to be core characters are brutally dispatched or critically maimed leaving you painfully aware that nobody is safe or guaranteed to make the final reel.

Green Room 2

Saulnier has assembled an eclectic and skilled cast consisting of his frequent collaborator Macon Blair alongside indie heavyweights such as Alia Shawkat and Mark Webber and more mainstream stars including Imogen Poots, Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart. No actor is given special treatment with Stewart dialing his performance down to a calm and collected simmering menace and with Blair far from sidelined as a strangely emotive skinhead. Despite varying degrees of experience both take to the stage with confidence and bring complexity to their characters. The film is an ensemble piece with good characterisation on both sides of the barricaded door. When someone dies you know who they were and so each death matters.

And there are plenty of deaths. And blood. And gore. Green Room is at its heart a horror film and is most importantly deeply terrifying. The threat on hand is not a spooky ghost or a chainsaw wielding maniac but relatively intelligent human beings who simply wouldn’t hesitate to cut, maul, or (as a last resort) shoot you if it got you out of the way. What makes Green Room a success us that the film is, within the realms of horror, so scarily plausible and plays on the fear that if someone wants to do you harm there’s very little you can do to stop it.

As a horror film Green Room is near perfect. It is without frills and fuss with no extraneous details or distractions. The premise is simple; a group of people are trapped where they do not want to be and must get past scary men to escape. The joy of the film is in its execution. An execution that holds nothing back and constantly surprises and horrifies. I gasped, I groaned, and I hid my face.

I loved it.

Green Room is out in the UK on 13th May 2016.

May in the Summer – LFF Film Review

May in the Summer

Let’s get the synopsis out of the way, it’s quite a chunky one. May (Cherien Dabis) is from a Christian family in Amman, Jordan and is about to get married to her Muslim fiance. Despite living in New York along with her sisters (Nadine Malouf and Alia Shawkat) she returns to get married in her hometown. May arrives a few weeks before her wedding without her fiance and comes to clashes with her born again Christian mother (Hiam Abbass) who does not approve of their inter-faith union despite the fact that May is essentially an atheist. To add further complication to the mix May and her sisters decide to reunite with their estranged father (Bill Pullman) and his young second wife (Ritu Singh Pande). Oh and while she’s in town May starts to flirt with a total stranger called Karim (Elie Mitri) who runs adventure tours.

As you can see there is a lot going on in the film and as such various threads are weaker than others and the film lacks enough focus for anything to really hit home. May is the focus of the film but comes across as quite a spoiled and selfish woman who does not easily earn the audience’s sympathies. What might seem like an ideal life for some seems to cause her an inordinate amount of angst. We barely see her fiance so it is tricky to get properly involved in whatever doubts she may be having and her flirtations with Karim are too lighthearted to ever really trouble the plot.

With this smorgasbord of plot points and characters I think the film’s producers would like us to think that May’s life is about to “spin hopelessly out of control”, to quote the IMDb page, but it all happens so slowly and without much consequence that her life doesn’t so much completely unravel as it does just develop a loose thread. May is a woman with a lot of problems but failed to get any empathy building in me, perhaps her strife was too seemingly privileged in comparison to the other films at this year’s festival.

The one part of the film that really did work for me was the overall family dynamic. Malouf and Shawkat are much more enjoyable as May’s sister and their gentle sibling squabbles are relatable and fun to watch. The conflict between May and her mother is fantastic and sparks an interesting debate about whether love is enough to sustain a relationship if you don’t share the same religion and how much judgement a mother should pass on her daughter’s choice of husband. Abbass is by far the star of the film as a deeply religious woman who has had her heartbroken and is generally disapproving of everything her three daughters do.

I struggled to connect to May and so struggled with the film as a whole but strong performances from the ensemble and some diamonds amongst the mess of plots made May in the Summer a moderately enjoyable experience.

May in the Summer has no UK release date yet.

BFI London Film Festival 2013