By Linc Leifeste | April 22, 2016
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Patrick Stewart, Joe Cole, Mark Webber, Callum Turner, Taylor Tunes, Macon Blair, Eric Edelstein, Brent Werzner
After director Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore directorial effort, Blue Ruin, came out of nowhere to land on my list of favorite films of 2014, my expectations were high for his follow-up, Green Room. Maybe a little too high. Whereas I loved the former for it’s visceral yet nuanced approach to the concepts of revenge and violence, managing to smartly turn the revenge film genre on its head, the latter mostly throws nuance out the window for the sake of doubling down on the visceral (defined as:
The set-up to this bloody escape film sees youthful punk rock band, the Ain’t Rights, slipping further down on their already hard-luck existence while performing a “tour” in their beat up van, with a paying gig falling through last minute. This leads them to say yes in response to the remorseful “promoter” offering to arrange a make-up gig at a remote club down the road that his cousin is involved with, which happens to cater to skin-heads. As soon as the band pulls into the parking lot of the off-the-road, white supremacist compound, there’s a palpable sense of danger. And when the ballsy band, comprised of singer Tiger (Callum Turner), guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin), bassist Sam (Alia Shawkat), and drummer Reece (Joe Cole), kick off their set with a convincing cover of the the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” you know things aren’t going to end well.
The Ain’t Rights, as punk rock as they need to be, actually go on to win over the neo-Nazi audience but just as they’re about to leave the complex they see something they shouldn’t, causing things to go quickly south. As a result, they soon find themselves locked in the club’s “green room,” trying to figure a way out of the clutches of the well-armed and violent minions that surround them. Without giving anything away, what follows is an intensely violent back and forth that features plenty of smart twists and turns and abrupt, horrific deaths. The intensity never lets down and I found myself drawn into the bloody conflict, alternately squirming in my seat, cringing, jumping, laughing nervously, watching with baited breath all the while. A minor quibble, I also found myself at times straining to understand bits of dialogue, although I’m not sure if that was a result of poor sound editing or an intentional move on Saulnier’s part to add to the film’s realism and sense of chaos.
Casting Patrick Stewart as the leader of the white supremacist enclave was a bold and interesting move, but ultimately I’m torn as to whether it was smart filmmaking or simply a case of miscasting. Clearly he chillingly plays against character here, and there is a striking power in that, but it’s somehow distracting to see his theatrical presence alongside the effectively naturalistic turns of the lesser known cast, even if he does do an admirable job of underplaying his character. And it also seems odd to have this British guy at the head of this rural American band of violent, racist thugs. Sadly, he’s also saddled with delivering a painful final line of dialogue that feels completely superfluous and flip.
But that moment of flip dialogue is a blip on the radar in a film that is generally economic and lean in both its storytelling and running time. There’s not a lot of fat to be trimmed in this wildly entertaining film. The flip side of that is that there’s not a lot of time spent on backstory or character arc, so as characters are being killed, at times truly shockingly slaughtered, there’s no sense of connection or loss. At times, it’s hard to even tell who’s bleeding out in the darkened rooms, the impact being felt purely (powerfully) viscerally, not a bit emotionally. Whether that’s a net positive or a net negative will depend on your taste in filmmaking and storytelling. Either way, with Green Room, Saulnier has crafted a tense, taut, bloody and generally lean punk-rock tale that is propulsively entertaining and visually striking (with the equally talented Sean Porter handling cinematography this time around instead of Saulnier himself), at least if you have the stomach for intensely graphic violence.