The vicious catharsis of Green Room
Lately I’ve been avoiding entertainment. So much reminds me of when my mom was alive. A week and change ago I saw a bottle of iced tea in the fridge that I had purchased for her. It set off waterworks.
New stuff is also hard to get into. I simply haven’t been in a good emotional place for movie watching. I watched Captain America 3: Civil War twice for its escapism. I saw Zootopia and enjoyed it for the same reason. I saw Green Room the other day for pretty practical reasons. It’s an indie film that was likely leaving theatres this week. I’d wanted to see it for some time. I love scary movies, and I loved Jeremy Saulnier’s first film, Blue Ruin. This was probably my last shot at seeing this movie in theatres.
I showed up at the theatre, got my popcorn and a blue raspberry Icee, entered the theatre and proceeded to almost have an anxiety attack right there as I took my seat. My anxiety has been through the roof since my mom died. It flares up unpredictably. The theatre was totally empty, had just gotten dark, and the trailer for The Conjuring 2 was playing, very loudly. I almost ran out of the back of theatre. Instead I went to the lobby, took deep breaths, and took a sip of my drink. I saw a young couple walk into the theatre. The thought of Green Room as a date movie amused me. That tiny shift into amusement, and not being alone in the theatre any more, just sharing a space with other people, calmed me down. I went back in, took my seat, and the movie began.
I’m not in a mental place right now to give this movie the proper review that it deserves. It is a sensational thriller. Tight, technically splendid, well-acted. All meat and no fat. When it was over, I was startled at how calm I felt. This wasn’t for the movie lacking intensity. Rather, I’d finally found an outlet for rattled nerves.
In tough times I’ve often found my outlet in expressive, fanciful fiction. I love horror. I also love science fiction, animation, video games, and musical theatre. Green Room is not the sort of escapism I’d think I would be drawn to in a time when the most overriding feeling in my day to day life is intense sadness, but here it was and so was I.
My favorite escapist entertainment engages and overwhelms my senses. My biggest escapes are less with movies that allow me to turn my brain off than those that don’t let my mind wander. This can happen in a number of ways. Mad Max: Fury Road was such an staggering experience that it propelled me out of my head and into the present like no other movie I’ve seen: there was no room left for thought beyond what was unfolding in front of me. Green Room isn’t such an overload. However, it engaged my anxiety in a way that few thrillers like it ever have.
Horror films aren’t usually so thorough and meticulous in their buildup. Opening scenes are usually perfunctory, the necessary steps to get to the action. Green Room presents an anxious person’s nightmare. It shows a fairly normal day for normal people suddenly turning into cold terror. It actually goes through the motions of a fairly typical day for a punk band, touring and living in an old van. Slogging through an interview for a college radio station. Muscling through a terrible gig. Taking another gig at a sketchy as hell location because they need the money. Realizing that the location is full of white supremacists, putting their heads down, and playing on but making sure to play an anti-Nazi song while they’re at it. The first half of the film could come right out of a punk rock band’s biography. And then, a wave of swift, remorseless violence. It all unfolds so indiscriminately, so randomly. I’ve had nightmares that resemble this movie; they’re the worst kind, that are so grounded in a sense of possibility that they are the hardest to shake when I awake.
As I said, I’m not in a place to give Green Room the review I’d like to, though I have a feeling it’s going to be high on my list of my favorite films of the year. I have no idea how others will feel about this film. It is certainly too grim and vicious for many. My feelings about the film, right now, are entirely about how it made me feel moments removed from an anxiety attack, weeks removed from the worst day of my life, and temporarily interrupting the routine of grief I’ve been working through since. Green Room didn’t really provide escapism, not the way the buoyant cheer of Zootopia and the action and broad pathos of Civil War did. Green Room trapped me, confronted me with some of my worst fears, and left me feeling exhilarated when I walked out of the theatre, having stared them down and not let them get the better of me. In a time when it hurts to feel much of anything, that was a thrill that I had missed.