Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart
Spoilers Within: Yes
Originally posted 7th June 2016 on Letterboxd.
Immediately upon leaving the auditorium after seeing Jeremy Saulnier’s third feature, I turned to my friends and said: “that was truly fucking horrible”. Depending on your personal cinematic tastes, this is either a bad thing or a good thing. In relation to my tastes, this declaration was a very good thing indeed.
Now, why exactly is a film that I deemed as ‘fucking horrible’ a good thing? Well, it’s because Saulnier has once again crafted a superbly tense thriller that shocks and entertains in equally furious measure, presenting visibly striking gore alongside its claustrophobic terror. Green Room is, by all accounts, one of the most thrilling, daring and terrifying entries to the genre that presents more moments of breathlessness and teeth-grinding than 99% of horror thrillers of the last decade.
To say I was anticipating this is an understatement; Saulnier’s previous (Blue Ruin) is one of my favourite films in recent memory, a slight and quietly merciless revenge drama that put both Saulnier and Macon Blair (who turns in another, albeit separately placid character) on my radar. One of the main reasonsGreen Room worked for me as well as it did was because it was the antithesis of everything I expected from what Blue Ruin had asserted, even though it mimics themes present since his first feature, Murder Party: absurdly unprepared people in severely violent situations, often accidental, rarely inescapable. This time, it’s the members of punk band ‘The Ain’t Rights’ chasing their next gig, which – unfortunately for the (mostly) featherweight punks – takes place at a neo-nazi venue in the backwoods of Oregon.
The narrative direction is so precisely tuned that the audience is led down a path of assumption that the band put themselves in immediate danger just by accepting the gig, but this isn’t a Saulnier film without subverted expectations. Though they open their show with a teasing, anti-white-supremacist Dead Kennedy’s cover – “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” – the characters are mostly in the clear after their enraged crowd are won over by their original riffs. The trivial ‘wrong place, wrong time’ event that instigates the carnage – a character simply forgetting their phone in the eponymous green room – kick-starts a night-long assault on the band from the neo-nazis, led with subdued menaced by National Treasure™ Patrick Stewart.
The script’s purpose to giving each character a shred of humanity was a wise choice, and by giving even the supremacists their moments of sympathy – from Blair’s right-hand clean-up man Gabe to Eric Edelstein’s doggedly assertive Big Justin – before they move on with their attack and cover-up gave more lift to the short, shocking moments that punctuated the band’s survival, reaching melodic levels of dread that had me peering through my hands for the first time in years. With such a fantastic cast, it’s both great to recognise but also recently heartbreaking to discover a new role in Anton Yelchin, who carries the film even in the presence of such greats as Stewart and Blair. His recent death is such a loss for cinema as Green Room showed his talent for contemplative humour surrounded by visceral destruction.
Whilst I found Blue Ruin to be the better, more complex film,Green Room has cemented Jeremy Saulnier as one of my favourite genre directors of this decade, with a hugely satisfying and frequently frightening invasive horror that will only get better with repeat viewings, and will hopefully be remarked with cult status in no time at all.