Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room takes advantage of two primal human fears to fill its audience with a profound sense of unease: the fear of confinement, and the fear of being outnumbered in a fight. The film establishes an omnipresent feeling of dread by casting the members of a punk rock band into the deep end of a hinterland Neo-Nazi club. Though the set itself is fine, one of the members witnesses something he shouldn’t, and the film becomes a hyper-realistic slasher thriller set in this single, remote location. Though the story essentially recreates the “Ten Little Indians” trope, there is a subtlety and direction to the plot and a dimensionality to the characters that raises Green Room above the common slasher.
The Aint Rights are a road-weary punk band who steer clear of social media because they think it compromises the spirit of the music. When a gig falls through, their host lines up another one to make up for it. This one is way out in the boonies and is at a neo-Nazi club – but a gig’s a gig. Everything goes reasonable well as far as the actual set is concerned, but afterwards the guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin) accidentally witnesses a crime and the attempted cover-up in the green room. The band is locked in the room until the higher-ups can perform damage control, and the story unravels in a very forward way from there. It is claustrophobic and scary, punctuated by flashes of violence and gore. Saulnier doesn’t hold your hand, and allows the storytelling to flow from small details and brief, innuendo-laden conversations. The result: we don’t fully understand the motivations of carious characters until late in the film, when the realizations dawn naturally.
The band members and lower-level Nazis are all superbly acted, with Saulnier’s good friend Macon Blair (who starred in Blue Ruin) and Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development fame drawing special attention. But the titanic performance in Green Room emerges from Patrick Stewart, who heads the neo-Nazi group as Darcy. He is terrifying, calculating, calm, and domineering. It is a wonderful scary performance, forever in control and even seductive when he negotiates with the victims. He doesn’t blink at violence, and owns a disturbing comfort with his own evil. It is an against-type and great performance, and one of the major draws to the film (but not the only one by any means).
The rest of the band members help flesh out the action admirably. All of them have personalities, and though obviously not all will survive, none seem disposable. This is also true for the majority of the neo-Nazis, and it is quite uncommon for so many minor villains to have such satisfying arcs. Many films struggle to give the protagonist a convincing character arc; Saulnier gives one to nearly every character – seemingly without effort. This is a solid ensemble, and as our proxies in this world, they do a great job of sucking the audience into the environment.
Overall, the aesthetic of the film is rather sparse. There are amazing establishing shots that remind of The Shining’s opening helicopter shot, and Saulnier has deft control of the camera, which he often uses to direct our attention in interesting ways. There is little fanfare to the violence and gore and overall the film was more restrained than I had expected. Many more cynical critics may balk at the violence, as it is brutal and serves little beyond inspiring fear and establishing the climate of the film. But, there is no glorification of the violence – regardless of its nature or target. It is presented bluntly, matter-of-factly. In a larger sense, the film approaches the question of violence much as its main villain does: as a necessary tool to be manipulated and utilized for a particular end.
In Green Room, Saulnier’s peculiar aesthetic continues to mature. He prefers a his protagonists to be common people placed in hyper-violent circumstances, and he is comfortable with letting them struggle towards their goals. Though we watch and enjoy the exploits of a Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt, their other-worldly skill level casts them as purely fictional characters whom we struggle to relate. By contrast, Saulnier plucks his heroes seemingly from the audience itself, and crafts a story that despite its extravagance, possesses an uncanny and rewarding verisimilitude.
Are there any other burgeoning Jeremy Saulnier fans out there who enjoyed Blue Ruin (Or even Murder Party – which I have yet to see?) and are looking forward to Green Room? I saw it in a theatre where I was one of 6 or 7 people in the room, so I wonder if this film is on people’s radar at all. Let me know if you’ve heard of this film before now in the comments, and if you’re interested in seeing it (you should be!)
Futhermore – make sure to share and tweet and like this post if it got you excited for the flick: maybe you’ll excite someone else, too!