By Caspar Salmon | Film | May 19, 2015 |
By Caspar Salmon | Film | May 19, 2015 |
A band of winningly bedraggled punk rockers (including Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat) arrives in a small-town, desperate to be booked for a gig — any gig — so as to make a bit of money. To their horror and (it soon becomes clear) to their terrible misfortune, they find themselves booked to perform at a venue that plays host to a hardcore neo-nazi audience. After riling the crowd by cheerfully thrashing through some anti-fascist tunes, the band retreat to the green room backstage to pick up their winnings and get the hell out, but there they become witnesses to a terrible murder. As they threaten to call the cops, the tension grows until the band have barricaded themselves into the room, while the head honcho of the neo-nazis (Patrick Stewart) is brought in to try and wipe them out. The stand-off escalates from there, unleashing a cataclysm of gore along the way.
En route, director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin) and his cast have a ball, mining the story for some big laughs, can’t-look-away-fast-enough violence and merrily gratuitous gore. The plot swings about wildly like an angry drunkard, with inventive new developments carrying the spectator through to the end with bravura style.
Saulnier gets into his set-up efficiently, with wit and smarts: a succession of good establishing scenes show us the bonds that link the members of the band and how their individual characters interact, and gives us a decent sense of the situation they find themselves in. The film conjures up place well: the scuzzy interior of this rock bar with its dingy lighting and grimy furniture is used excellently as the setting for the events to unfold in. And in the early scenes at least, as the tension is heightened against a backdrop of filthy punk noise, the film really throbs with energy and resourcefulness.
How you enjoy the rest of the film depends on your tolerance of, or love for, gore. I found my attention dwindling once the film took — as it perhaps had to — a turn for the gruesome. It’s part of the horror genre’s code that violence must escalate until only a few people are left standing by the end. The film takes a wicked pleasure in amping up this aspect: the first few mutilations act like visceral shocks to the system, marking a thumping beat to puncture the hum of the tension that had been accumulating. And the second, third and fourth deaths carry a real jolt, but are also played for something like gaspworthy enjoyment. My concern is that once the film descends into a succession of gory murders, it begins to inure you to its shocks and distract you somewhat from what was at stake in the first place.
The film’s technical merit varies rather wildly: the opening stages border on the masterful, establishing the scene with wit and pace, and setting about the conflict with tightly controlled formalism. At times though, especially as the horror intensifies and after several people have died, the film’s direction feels lacking: rote action scenes replace the artful mise-en-scene of the beginning. The writing also gets more patchy at the three-quarter point, as the action becomes more generic. The only character who gets to deepen over the course of the film is Imogen Poots, playing a young woman caught up in the face-off: every other protagonist is ultimately swallowed up by the action. Patrick Stewart’s head neo-nazi is very thinly drawn, and what should be the film’s riotous climax feels meager too.
These reservations may be mine only: if you enjoy tracking a film’s recklessly bloody bodycount and are into seeing a new and stylish take on the horror genre, this film will feel like a sweet kiss on the forehead; if you don’t require psychological verisimilitude from a film to get your kicks, so much the better. If you are seeking something with a deep engagement with character or — as in Blue Ruin — a sustained stylistic proposition, then this film is not for you. Otherwise, strap yourself in, let those fuzzy guitars melt your ears, and emit a horrified groan of contentment as the blood and guts churn about you.