2010s movies

Green Room

green_room_film_posterJeremy Saulnier wanted to make an exploitation movie with ready-made villains. And who better to fill this role (other than Russians, usually, or Arab terrorists) than Nazis?

Green Room (2015) is his third full-length feature, his first being the charmingly gory cloistered art scene send-up, Murder Party. Say this about the man: Brooklyn art studios and Oregon punk bars are as far removed as you can get from your standard horror set-up.

Hardcore band The Ain’t Rights is spinning its wheels on the road, a common enough fact of life for many touring acts. And they cut corners any way they can, sleeping in their van and siphoning gas.

When their tour sputters to Spinal Tap proportions, which include a truly terrible gig inside a half-capacity burrito joint, a fan-zine journalist/booker tries to remedy the misstep with a face-saving kick at the can: a very lucrative gig, albeit at a skinhead bar in the remote Pacific Northwest.

It’s deep in the dark woods, a feature of many horrors as these represent the border between order and chaos. But the bar’s pretty chaotic as well.

The Ain’t Rights’ singer baits the rough-neck crowd with a tear-through of Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks F*ck Off. Certainly not a number to help their case, and sure enough, there are enough members of the crowd on hand with unsympathetic sensibilities when it comes to that song.

greenroom_moviePost-gig, bassist Pat (the late Anton Yelchin) forgets his cell in the backstage green room, where, in true genre film fashion, he spots….a body!  It’s a young girl, who’s been stabbed in the side of the head.

What to do with a body is the plot that’s launched 1,000 films, but the way the material is handled here — to Saulnier’s credit — Green Room doesn’t even NEED a body!

The background/place setting is so authentic, the characters so compelling, that a spin-off film could’ve easily been made about the exploits of earlier Ain’t Rights’ tours, maybe an updated version of Bruce MacDonald’s Hard Core Logo.

Regardless, as witnesses to the crime, the band members find themselves in a terrible predicament, made worse upon the arrival of bar owner Darcy (a terrific, sonorous turn by none other than Patrick Stewart, squaring the Star Trek circle with Yelchin, who was Chekov in the movie reboot).

Terrific tense action and cramped atmosphere that doubles as a loving tribute to punk rock. Ironically, it’s also quiet, especially when it needs to be, a rarity in horror.

Punk’s not dead! But things aren’t looking right for Ain’t Right.

***3/4 (out of 5)


I Am Zozo

I_Am_ZozoThe 2014 film Ouija spelled out “BOX OFFICE HIT” on the board, as the film took in a whopping 100 + million bucks. Ouija: Origin of Evil nearly did the same.

I Am Zozo (2014) predates Ouija by two years, but of course, doesn’t have the Blumhouse backing.

Shot very capably on Super 8*, the film features a group of collegians off to a cottage for some Halloween fun and frolic. This abode is located on an island, and their Styx-like crossing adds some heavy Gothic ambiance.

I Am Zozo, to its credit, spends ample time investing in its principals.

But maybe it shoulda been called I am Yo-Yo, as in Ma, because the tale begins with a rather bedraggled cellist Tess, who doesn’t look like she’s ready for the Boston Philharmonic. Teary-eyed Tess, bow in hand, recounts to a sympathetic therapist that she “was once normal.”

Then there’s Nick, a budding amateur magician who dresses like one. He channels (among other things) self-styled skeptic James Randi.

Mel is a pretentious Wiccan, that silly fad religion with no cohesive intellectual tradition, but a terrific character to have for a movie of this type. Naturally, she explains the finer points of Samhain to a credulous Tess and breaks out a Ouija board.

i_am_zozoNick enlightens the two girls about the finer points of “idiomotor action,” in which people make movements unconsciously, i.e., that Ouija boards are basically nonsense. This, as they prepare for the night’s repast, a freshly caught fish, gutted in a rather pointless and lengthy montage.

As the kids get increasingly drunk, they naturally conjure up spirits, one of whom, Zozo, tells them exactly what time they’re going to die.

Kelly McLaren is terrific as Tess, and these kids are pretty darn likeable. There’s also some authentic dialogue (“Do you have a gun in the house? You kidding, my dad’s a liberal!”) and solid atmosphere for a smidgen budget.

But we have to admit, we’re not the target audience for this by virtue of its tameness and our aversion to the mystical (we like our supernatural horror Italian – with vivid gore). As liminal horror for the newbie set, I Am Zozo is a perfectly functional and well-made psychological thriller, a film which will hopefully turn them on to more intense experiences.

*** (out of 5)

*I Am Zozo was the winner of a the Best Feature and Audience Choice Awards at the 2012 U.S. Super 8 Film Festival