Green Room Is an Intensely Nerve-Wracking Near Masterpiece
It’s a rare and magical thing when a filmmaker can take a generic premise, one used and abused in dozens of direct-to-DVD movies per month, and make something incredibly special and unique out of it. Jeremy Saulnier did just that with 2013’s Blue Ruin, turning a simple revenge tale into an intimately devastating experience, and now he’s done it again. His new film, Green Room, takes the oft-used setup of people trapped after being in the wrong place at the wrong time and crafts it into a siege film that’s both aggressively intense and cheer-worthy.
The Ain’t Rights are a young punk band wrapping up their latest miserable tour experience with a last-minute gig in rural Oregon. The club has a neo-Nazi vibe to it, but the money is good so they do they show mostly without incident and prepare to head home. Their exit is halted though when they witness something they shouldn’t have, and they quickly find themselves detained in the club’s green room. As the minutes tick by it becomes clear that the police aren’t coming, the club owner has no intention of letting them leave, and this may very well be the band’s farewell tour.
The idea of a siege featuring the good guys trapped in a location under assault from outside forces is a familiar one brought to life in numerous mediocre films and a handful of great ones (John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13), and Green Room commands a spot near the top. We care about the protagonists, we fear the antagonists, and the experience puts us in an increasingly exciting and unsettling state of uncertainty. No one is safe here, and that includes viewers with weak hearts.
Brutal acts of violence strike swiftly with intense, gruesome results. There’s gun play, but the bad guys are also using blades, attack dogs, and more with the wet and gory aftermath captured vividly before our eyes. We cringe and feel the pain of the onslaught in part because it’s captured so unflinchingly, but just as important is our affection for the characters.
The band members (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, Joe Cole) are young punks whose love of the music trumps their need for success. It’s idealistic, but it and their friendly bantering make them an endearing foursome. The standout though is a club-goer named Amber (Imogen Poots) finds herself aligned with the band by circumstance. She’s blunt with her intentions and sharp with her wit, and she shows her worth early on during one of the film’s numerous action beats. This may be a grounded, real-world movie, but Amber belongs alongside Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski as one of cinema’s toughest female ass-kickers.
Amber’s wit is just one part of a very funny movie. There are several great gags amid the carnage, and the characters cling to their sense of humor even as the darkness descends. There are laughs and fantastic character moments on the flip side too, but there’s also a heavy sense of tangible evil in the nonchalant cruelty of the club owner (Patrick Stewart) and his crew. Stewart is pure, cold menace, while Macon Blair represents the sole underling with a hint of a conscience.
The various turns, events, and violent outbursts are best discovered blindly as Saulnier works his simple story in remarkably tense and twisted directions. As he did with Blue Ruin, he’s crafted a genre film populated with at times inept protagonists unprepared for the hell they’ve walked into. The idea worked a bit better in that earlier film as one person’s incompetence is easier to accept than a quartet of young adults with limited common sense when it comes to fighting and surviving, but moments that could have felt frustrating here instead make their desperation and fear tangible.
There is a single exception though – and no, I won’t be spoiling it here – that sees the group make a collective decision of such epic, inconceivable inanity that it threatens to hobble the entire movie. That it not only survives this action but actually goes on to thrive is a testament to just how brilliantly executed the film actually is.
Green Room is a vicious, grisly, suspenseful roller-coaster ride with a razor-sharp safety bar, and you are going to get cut. As dark and violent as it is though it’s also a thrilling crowd-pleaser guaranteed to leave you spent, exhilarated, and ready to watch it again. And if nothing else, it finally gives us a reason to distrust neo-Nazis.
The Upside: Incredibly intense; frequently funny; surprising and unpredictable; visceral violence; Imogen Poots is a force of nature; Patrick Stewart and Macon Blair
The Downside: That one inconceivable action
Editor’s note: Our review of Green Room originally ran during Fantastic Fest 2015, but we’re re-posting it now as the film is in limited release.