Saturday’s star-studded screening of the new Portland-filmed thriller “Green Room” at the Hollywood Theater was a roller coaster of terror and delight.
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier and produced by Portlander Neil Kopp (who’s worked locally with Kelly Reichardt and Gus Van Sant), “Green Room” brought a phenomenal cast to Oregon, including Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots and Macon Blair.
The film has been referred to as horror by some critics — mostly due to the unsettling, and often gruesome, scenes that unfold in the second half — yet in the same way Saulnier’s critically-acclaimed 2013 film “Blue Ruin” moved with ease between genres, “Green Room” turns genre conventions and tropes on their heads.
The film follows a down-on-its-luck punk band named Ain’t Rights that picks up a last minute gig in rural Oregon. The band members arrive to discover that they’re playing to a crowd of neo-Nazis, who they quickly provoke with a certain Dead Kennedys song. Before the band can skip town, they get locked into the green room with a stranger and a dead body. Violence ensues.
The film premiered at Cannes last year to generally favorable reviews. The Guardian wrote that “Saulnier’s ability to take a well-trodden road and fill it with grisly surprises is quite something.” Consequence of Sound applauded the film’s way of “toying with genre conventions like a cat with a mouse before eventually subverting them to the end.”
The packed Portland premiere was geared towards the cast and crew. Saulnier and a number of actors, including Yelchon, Poots and Blair, attended, alongside some local VIPs like musician/comedian Hutch Harris.
While Stewart was absent, Elijah Wood filled his shoes as the big Hollywood name. Wood is currently in town filming Macon’s forthcoming directorial debut.
Here’re six things to know before “Green Room” hits Portland theaters on April 29:
1. Music Plays A Central Role
When the Ain’t Rights take the stage at the neo-Nazi venue, they’re clearly amping up for something big. Sam (Alia Shawkat) prods her cohorts, making sure they’re still on board, before the band breaks into a rendition of the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks.”
When asked the point of this display during the Q&A, the director said that he saw it as a sort of prison bravado, and the type of act he’d seen in his own experiences with the punk scene. Saulnier said that growing up in that tense, politically-charged environment in D.C. in the ‘90s informed the writing of the film.
“Nazi punks are low-hanging fruit for bad guys,” he said. “I chose them because they’re the most like soldiers.”
Yelchin’s character and one of the neo-Nazis also have a chilling conversation that centers around a specific song. And throughout the film, a point of discussion among the the musicians is their “desert island band,” a question that bubbles back up in a hilarious way during the film’s finale.
2. The Women In “Green Room” Are Amazing
If you watch the trailer, you can be forgiven for thinking that dudes are the stars of this film. And the beginning of the film seems to confirm that, focusing on the quiet, uncertain underdog, Pat (Yelchin). Yet, as the plot unfolds, it’s consistently the women who are pushing for action and who make a stand against their captors. In one scene, Amber (the friend of the green room corpse, played by Imogen Poots) manages to corner one of the white supremacists who demands that she “listen.” The word is barely out of his mouth before she lets him know just how interested she is in doing that — with a shotgun.
3. Stewart Is Terrifying
The buttery smooth cadence Stewart’s become known for as an actor is here, but it takes on a new tone in his role as Darcy, the revered, Heisenberg-esque leader of the Neo-Nazis imprisoning the band. It’s like Capt. Picard has gone to the dark side: instead of imploring followers to seek out new life, he’s commanding them to take it. As I overheard one audience member say: “I now have to check for monsters and Patrick Stewart under my bed.”
4. It’s An Oregon Film Through And Through
“Portland is the only place we could make this movie,” Saulnier said, adding that it had the geographic juxtaposition of settings that makes the film work: the contrast of the stuffy, oppressive green room with the expansive wilds of the state.
5. Your Ears Are Going To Get A Workout
With such a visually striking film, it may seem odd to narrow in on the audio, but it’s truly phenomenal. The feedback from a microphone, the claustrophobic score, the distant bark of a dog — “Green Room” is a story you can follow with your eyes closed and still find yourself gripping the edge of your seat.
The importance of the audio is nowhere more apparent than in a scene where the power gets cut to the green room, leaving the band in the dark. The panicked back-and-forth between the band and the sounds of footsteps and labored breathing all up the tension without leaning on a cheap jump scare. During the Q&A, Saulnier explained that during the original screening at Cannes, the audio was lacking, and so the sound was completely remixed and the score partially redone (by Macon Blair’s little brother no less).
6. Macon Blair Is A Star To Keep An Eye On
Blair, a childhood friend of Saulnier who starred in “Blue Ruin,” plays Darcy’s number two, Gabe. But rather than embrace the one-dimensional, henchman-style bad-guy that his character could have been, Blair subtly shapes a complex, deeply human character.
But the reason you should be paying attention is that he’s shooting his directorial debut in Portland this spring, starring Wood and produced by Kopp. Details are sparse, beyond a Craigslist ad looking for body doubles for Wood and co-star Melanie Lynskey and Wood’s retweets of local DJs Strange Babes (one of whom is Kathy Foster of the Thermals, maybe explaining Harris’s presence).
Also, the guy loves Mississippi Records.