Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Macon Blair, and Patrick Stewart
Jeremy Saulnier burst onto the scene in 2013 with his masterful revenge thriller, Blue Ruin. A very low key but brutal movie that manages to make it’s violence unappealing and heartwrenching, it’s a true look at the horrible and cyclical nature of revenge. It’s a small movie but it’s impact is fucking huge. It was a very confident movie for a young filmmaker. It had been 6 years since his last movie, Murder Party, and apparently there was no rust. Quite the contrary, it’s seemed like he grew enormously since that time. And with that movie gaining some attention, anticipation was high for whatever he would follow it up with. And lucky for us, we didn’t have to wait 6 years in between projects. We’ve gotten a new movie from Saulnier, a movie that sets out to prove he is a more varied filmmaker and with more quality projects in him than the simple one hit wonder many others before him were. It may be another violent movie, but it is not the same kind of violent as Blue Ruin. This is a grungy, nasty and mean movie that is a white knuckle thrill ride though the seedy underbelly of America and the music industry.
Green Room follows the shitty, poor punk band “The Ain’t Rights” on the road. They’re a band relegated to playing dive bars for nothing money. With a show they’re set to play being cancelled, they are without enough gas money to get back home. But they’re set up with a show that will give them enough money to get back home. Only problem? It’s a really seedy, dangerous bar that is home to a Neo Nazi gang. So of course, they take the gig and end up in a really shit situation. They witness a murder and end up trapped in the titular green room, surrounded by murderous nazi bastards looking to get rid of the witnesses. What follows is a brutal, unflinching and tense thrill ride of these kids fighting for survival.
What Saulnier has put together here is, no bullshit, this generations Assault on Precinct 13. A no frills, muscular and hard hitting genre picture that shows off it’s auteurs ability to make something truly unique out of a seemingly typical plot. Boiled down, it’s a siege picture. Ever since the days of John Wayne in Rio Bravo we have had movies like this. So when someone can come in with something that expands it, you pay attention. What Saulnier does here is similar to what he did in Blue Ruin, and that is fill the movie with little details to broaden the world and to help us connect to the characters.
This is a short movie, so there isn’t too much time spent on these people and their backstories. But with the writing and directing, with no small credit due to the acting, you get a sense of these people. Of those trapped in the green room, you care about them. You realize these really are just kids, thrown into such a fucking insane situation that they’re way too unprepared for. It really gets us to sympathize. It even does it for the one person in the room with them that isn’t in the band, a nazi girl who is apart of the murder. Her friend is the one that was killed and she’s expendable as well. The fact that you even care enough about her despite he inherent scumbag nature, being a nazi and all, is astounding work. And that may be because of the horrific violence that Saulnier unleashes on these people. I won’t spoil what happens, but it is disgusting. There’s a realism to the violence, despite the heightened nature of the story, that really makes it hurt. It’s got no fear about hurting the characters, totally willing to kill its darlings. So that sense of horrific violence helps us connect to even the easily dislikable.
The cast in this movie is astounding, more well known faces than his last movie had. Yelchin is our main guy, the leader of the band and the guy kinda forced into leading the defensive front. He’s in way over his head and hit hard early on, but keeps on pushing. Poots is the nazi girl stuck with them, and she doesn’t do any tricks to make her likable. There’s nothing easy about the role, but she makes her likable enough to care about but also rightfully skeezy to be believable as a nazi groupie. His Blue Ruin star Blair takes part in the insanity as a Nazi that may not be as into the lifestyle as he should be. Much like his performance in their last collaboration, Blair brings a soulful intensity to the movie. There’s a humanity to him and he adds to the complicated nature of the movie. There’s some that are outright evil, and there’s the band that is outright good. But there’s in betweens like him and like Poots. It’s similar to the way that Precinct 13 had Darwin Jostin to add some nuance to the genre proceedings. And to add the absolute evil to the proceedings, there’s Stewart. Sure, the movie has plenty of evil in the skinhead fucks that populate the bar and go in with machetes looking to kill. But they’re a different kind of evil. They’re stupid and messy and easily manipulated. They’re mad dogs, much like the dogs that are used to some grisly ends in this flick. Stewart is the master, the smart man in charge that isn’t all id. He isn’t some angry kid looking to fuck the world. This is a horrible man that uses people up like tissue paper. He has no remorse and lords about like the king of the world, a God that can’t be touched in his swastika adorned kingdom. It’s an absolutely stunning performance by Stewart, if only because he’s never been as horribly evil as he is here. And he adorns himself to the evil quite well. As if we needed more proof that he’s a god damn treasure, this goes on to show that there is still depths to him to be mined.
Saulnier is a true master of the craft. I have no problem making that claim at such an early point in his career, but nobody makes a movie this confident and this well executed on all levels by accident. Especially two times in a row (I haven’t seen Murder Party yet). He takes what could have been a simple genre exercise that would evaporate from memory in a week, but he crafted something truly fucking extraordinary. A movie filled with all the little details of the punk rock/touring scene and the Nazi life to make this movie feel more lived in and to make the characters feel more real, it makes the movie all the more exhilarating and horrific. He conjures up some horrific images and ratchets up some gut wrenching tension, mixed in with some true humanity. And in between all this horror, he gets some genuine laughs out of the thing. This is a fantastic package that does everything it sets out to do perfectly. I can’t recommend this movie any more, and Saulnier’s next movie can’t come soon enough. At his own pace though. Let him craft another masterpiece at his own leisure.