There’s a contradiction at the end of GREEN ROOM – the opening film of TIFF 2015’s Midnight Madness programme. In the final moments of the film, a killer that has been so vicious throughout the movie’s runtime lays at the side of a dead companion. The moment audibly brought out an “awww” from the crowd gathered at The Ryerson Theatre…which was immediately followed by a bemused chuckle when many realized the sort of violence that was being forgotten.
It was a walking contradiction, and in that respect it had come to the right place.
GREEN ROOM is the story of the punk band The Ain’t Rights. When we meet them, they are sleeping in cornfields, siphoning gas to drive to their gigs, and taking away gate money that’s less than fifty bucks. When all seems darkest, an opportunity presents itself at a backwoods Pacific Northwest bar. There’s only one catch: “don’t talk politics”. Unfortunately, the catch proves far too big to ignore in the face of a room of skinheads, and The Ain’t Rights decide to start their set with a cover of The Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”.
An afternoon that began brazen, will soon turn bloody as the bandmates soon find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Soon the club owner is called in to settle accounts, the situation escalates, and The Ain’t Rights are fighting for their lives.
There’s a DIY quality inherent to punk music; a disdain for the rounded edges of a digital age and the easy access of streaming culture. So perhaps it’s fitting that when a film as punk as GREEN ROOM puts intense violence at its centre, that violence is likewise very DIY. We’re talking buckshot, shivs, fire extinguishers, duct tape, broken glass, and attack dogs. The result isn’t interested in being lyrical or clean so much as it wants to be aggressive and over in three minutes or less.
The thing about all of that messiness is that it’s ugly – at times it’s positively visceral. To counterbalance this, GREEN ROOM dots itself with occasional moments of true beauty. The opening moments of the film that follows the band on the road through Oregon with its lush greens and bluey blacks is serene in a way that’s unexpected in a film like this. Even the raw power of the band’s set is captured in such a way that gives their energy grace and solitude. We don’t really realize it at the time, but we will carry these moments with us when things get ugly.
It’s as if director Jeremy Saulnier knows the sort of muck we’re about to walk through, and feels like we’ll be able to keep our spirits higher if we have a lucky coin in our pocket.
Where that leads us is to a place that is not for the faint of heart. GREEN ROOM seems to know that sometimes you can’t always stand back and wait for things to come to you. Like a dog untethered and dragging its own leash, sometimes you need to force the issue and take things where you want them to go.
The result may be abrasive, ugly, and difficult…but so are so many of the best things in life.