To date, Jeremy Saulnier has directed only three features, Green Room being the last. Prior to that, Saulnier directed the uneven but entertaining Murder Party and the outstanding Southern Gothic-inspired Blue Ruin. With Green Room, Saulnier proves he is a film force to be reckoned with, and offers up one of the most jarring, breathless thrillers in years.
Anton Yelchin is Pat, a member of the punk band The Ain’t Rights, a hand-to-mouth band touring the Pacific Northwest on stolen gas and the money earned from the last gig to get them to the next. A nearby contact comes to the rescue when they run out of gas, offering them a place to crash and the promise of another venue to replenish their dwindling funds. It’s here we understand that the band eschews all social media, announcing their preference to keep live music pure with the same surety that all young artists have. It’s roleplay, we come to learn, but a style we all engage in, a way for us to be our ideal selves. Unfortunately, the world of Green Room detests ideals, and the band find themselves en route to a skinhead bar in the middle of nowhere to play their next set, thanks to the samaritan the band meets.
Once inside the rural bar, the band shows little anxiety, despite the unfriendly surroundings. They’ve done this before, played these kinds of clubs, and they launch into a set that both antagonizes and energizes the crowd of racist punks. In one of the most gorgeous moments of filmmaking, Saulnier depicts the band playing and the crowd moshing, all to an orchestral score and slow motion
visuals, creating a moment of pure beauty amidst the chaos.
As the title of the review suggests, a fuse has been lit when the movie begins, one that leads to this bar, backstage to the titular green room. Their set done, the band is ushered out, but Pat makes a run back to the green room to retrieve bandmate Sam’s (Alia Shawkat) cell phone and comes face-to-face with a murder scene. Before he can properly process what’s happening, Pat and the rest of the band are locked inside the green room with muscle from the club sitting with them, awaiting police to arrive. Thanks to quick action from Gabe (Macon Blair), one of the ideological leaders of the skinheads, the police are sated and our heroes, such as they are, are alone in this dangerous place, awaiting their fates as decided by the newly-arrived leader of the skinheads, Darcy( Patrick Stewart).
The fuse winds down as tensions grow between the band, who demand a phone or the police in exchange for the gun in the room, and the skinheads, perched outside and heavily armed. As all bombs must, this one explodes. A moment of violence, of chaos, and the situation shifts from tense standoff to a game of survival. The remainder of the film depicts the band’s struggles to survive as Darcy and his men attempt to dispose of the band and the survivor of the murder that incites the rest of the action in the film. It’s a chess game marked by Darcy’s attempts to keep the would-be cadavers of the band marked only in explainable ways while Pat and the band try to find a way to safety, navigating killer dogs, knife-wielding skinheads and their own wounds.
The majority of the film’s taut 95-minute runtime focuses on Pat and the survivor of the initial murder, Amber (Imogen Poots), scared and fragile young people faced with a lethal scenario. Both Yelchin and Poots acquit themselves admirably, but it’s Stewart’s slinky, nasty turn as Darcy that fuels the menace. Macon Blair, who also appeared in Blue Ruin, is terrific here, too, and Saulnier may have found his go-to actor in the fresh-faced Blair. Similarly, the cinematography is lush and kinetic without ever being confusing in its depiction of the action. Speaking of…
Yes, this movie is violent. In fits and long moments, Green Room depicts violence in a grisly, realistic manner that only enhances the effect. As a seasoned viewer of violence in movies, I was surprised to find myself gasp in one scene. It’s not the barbaric, gore for the sake of gore scenes one might find in Hostel or Saw films, but its limited use makes the moments ring with fidelity and viciousness.
What’s most stunning about Green Room is, like Blue Ruin, it is a movie concerned with and consumed by violence. More than that, it is concerned with the manner in which violence and mortal threat strip away artifice, leaving behind our true selves. Whether it’s Gabe and the revelation of his true motives or Pat and Amber’s recognition at the futility of ‘playing war,’ Green Room offers up humanity laid bare, no longer able to get by with punk rock platitudes or racist dogma. These may ignite the violence, but it is the human need for survival and, yes, vengeance, that propels it. A wildly entertaining, nihilistic movie that excels in every way. Not to be missed.