Though he piqued some curiosity with his first feature from 2007, Murder Party, it wasn’t until 2014’s Blue Ruin where writer/director, Jeremy Saulnier, really got everyone’s attention. I praised Blue Ruin in one of my earliest reviews on this site for it’s ability in finding nuance, depth and humor in its meditation on the sloppiness and futility of violence/revenge. So, to say his latest film, Green Room, has been building with anticipation would be an understatement. And this is amplified by the tremendously positive word-of-mouth from the festival screenings.
Like, Blue Ruin, Green Room also has simple, yet irresistible premise. A down-on-their-luck punk band, The Ain’t Rights (Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat & Callum Turner), find themselves low on cash in the middle of their tour, so they reluctantly accept a gig a skinhead joint, where they witness a murder. And with the neo-Nazis led by Darcy (Sir Patrick Stewart) preparing to take them out, the band, along with a stranger, Amber (Imogen Poots), who was the murder victim’s friend, must find a way to survive and get out.
Punks vs. Nazis, I don’t know if you can make up a premise more hardcore than that, and to say it straight off, yeah, this movie is awesome. Jeremy Saulnier pulls off a stellar genre thriller that’ll easily give most horror/thrillers to come this year a run for their money. It manages to be so different from Blue Ruin, but still feels like it is Saulnier’s voice telling the story, and if there’s anything Green Room proves, it’s that Saulnier is a born filmmaker.
Green Room is essentially a siege thriller. A good chunk of the film is the band stuck inside the said green room, with the skinheads trying to get in and later scenes involve the guys getting out and running back to safety in the green room. It’s tensely claustrophobic, and it is relentless. Aside from who lives and who dies, there’s not much to really spoil plot-wise. It’s pretty standard stuff on paper that when given Saulnier’s personal touch and technical mastery really makes Green Room the terrific experience that it is.
And by the way, even though it’s low budget, it is very much an experience movie. The film actually makes this pretty clear early on. There’s a scene near the beginning where the band is being interviewed and they’re asked why they don’t have a social media presence. They answer with the fact that, to them, music is a shared experience that isn’t the same if you just put it out there for everyone. Green Room is a film designed to be best experienced with a crowd. The way the audience will feed off of the film’s intensity and react to the gruesome and horrifying acts of violence will be an essential part of the overall experience that watching by yourself is going to sorely lack (though, it’ll at least still be a great film either way). Green Room doesn’t have the same level of emotional depth and thematic resonance that Blue Ruin had, but that’s OK. The goals of Green Room as a down n’ dirty thrill ride is easily met through razor sharp, methodical filmmaking. It’s a film that overwhelms you with tension, allowing you to almost experience the same anxiety as the characters are.
Something I’m noticing with Saulnier is that he has a way, even in confrontations with the least moral shades of grey like in Green Room, where he humanizes the villains, often in small, casual ways. The skinheads are treated like straight up villains, but there is more to them. one way is through the character of Gabe (Macon Blair), who is Darcy’s right hand man, and there’s a reluctance to every action he takes. The film also presents the younger members as no different than the dogs that are later brought in to kill the band. These are kids who have lost their way. They are just as confused about the situation as the band and it allows the higher-ups to manipulate them into doing horrible things. There’s a sense of brotherhood, hierarchy, and belonging that attracts people who would otherwise be totally fine. It’s a fun and smart way that Saulnier prevents the audience from truly reveling in the violent ends that some of these skinheads meet, and it gives the film a smart, thoughtful layer beyond the genre thrills.
Of course, like with Blue Ruin, this film has a subtle undercurrent of dark comedy, hell it pretty much ends on a really funny punchline. It allows the film to not feel monotonous and repetitive, but never at the expense of the overall mood and atmosphere that Green Room is attempting. It’s not so much bringing in belly laughs as much as it gives the audience a brief moment of awkward pause before the next gruesome scene happens, which sounds odd, but it’s all used to great effect.
Another thing to appreciate is Saulnier’s use of violence. The violent acts and the characters inflicting said violent acts are sloppy. Sloppy with a capital S. I don’t normally like to use the term, but it makes the film very “realistic.” There is a sense of realism in the violence in how, no matter how calculated the planning is on either side, as soon as the guns start shooting and the knives start slicing, it’s a total mess. It’s nasty and sickening, and nothing ever really goes as planned. It’s so unlike what you see in most mainstream films.
If, by the the time Green Room is over and you don’t consider Jeremy Saulnier one of the most promising and exciting filmmakers today, I don’t know what to do with you. Green Room is a bone-crunching, blood-curdling masterwork of tension and violence. There’s a confidence and intelligence to be found in the craftsmanship that is hard to find in most indie films, and it absolutely solidifies Saulnier as a filmmaker that demands your attention. It’s a triumph in genre filmmaking with a great work from the cast (especially from Sir Patrick Stewart) and it’s an excellent crowd experience. Also, as someone who holds punk rock pretty close to my heart because of how important it was to me growing up, Green Room is legit. 90/100