Synopsis: After witnessing a murder, a punk rock band is forced into a vicious fight for survival against a group of maniacal skinheads. (Source)
Born out of a search for identity and acting as a cathartic revolt to mainstream culture, there’s a lot of inherent anger and frustration in punk music and its accompanying scene. Green Room, directed and written brilliantly by Jeremy Saulnier, shows what happens when all of those repressed feelings and emotions explode and manifest into physically uncontrollable acts of violence. The final product is one of the meanest, leanest thrillers you’ll see all year, and a near-pitch perfect exercise in palpable cinematic tension. Like he exhibited so fiercely in Blue Ruin, Saulnier again finds his characters locked in a savage cycle of endless violence, but this time amidst an intimate, siege thriller with a ticking clock of a plot. Utilizing a minimal premise to his advantage, Saulnier runs wild, using his excellent cast to showcase the effects of culturally imbedded hate through a primal story of survival. What you get is a film that’s gritty, raw and loud, offering no escape to the unwitting soul that dares to experience it.
At the end of an underwhelming tour, east coast punk band the Ain’t Rights are at odds with each other and hopelessly down on their luck. With barely any money to make it home, the band jumps on a matinee gig somewhere in rural Oregon. The venue is run by a group of neo-Nazi skinheads, but even after an instigative cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, the band is well paid and ready to be on their way. Things go south however, when the band’s guitarist Pat, walks into the green room and unwittingly witnesses a murder. After the band’s hurriedly shoved into the green room, a stand-off begins – the Ain’t Rights are outnumbered and outgunned, going up against a cabal of unsavory brutes with nothing but their wit and will to survive.
Whereas most films would struggle to find depth or substance in such a minimalist premise, Saulnier’s film is packed to the brim with ideas amidst a passionate and authentic immersion of punk culture. Though the line between good and evil is clearly defined, Saulnier positions both his punks and skinheads on equal footing in many ways, stripping them down to their instinct for survival even as they internally question and battle the integrity of their ideologies. The film isn’t overtly political, but it is human, with villains who are lead astray and anti-heroes who are just trying to make it through the night. Like the best kind of art, Saulnier’s film is satisfying on multiple levels – as an unrelenting, rapid-fire thriller in which no one is safe and anything can happen at any minute, and a social metaphor which illustrates the moral implications of indifference and blind hate. The final result isn’t preachy, but carries a sense of weight and importance, giving us much to think about when the credits roll. On a technical level, Saulnier shows off his talent for texture through detail, using beautiful cinematography to bring the film’s setting to life in all of it’s grimy glory – dark hallways are ominously lit in neon, stickers on the wall spew words of hate, and red shoelaces carry a newfound sense of dread. Coupled with the smart and inventive twists which constantly renew and invigorate the plot, the film is one that never lets up, evoking a suffocating type of tension that inarguably gets under our skin.
The ensemble cast is no joke either. As the Ain’t Rights, Alia Shawkat’s Sam, Anton Yelchin’s Pat, Joe Cole’s Reece and Callum Turner’s Tiger are all standouts, and they feel like a real band made up of disparate, beleaguered misfits – they all get their own moment to shine. Each person brings a different type of energy and feel to the film, and Saulnier uses them smartly, at times subverting expectation. Thanks to their effortless chemistry, we’re instantly scared and empathetic towards their desperate situation. Imogen Poots is great as someone stuck in the middle – unwittingly trapped in with the room with the band but with a story of her own, she excels at bringing a kind of unpredictability and unique perspective to everything that’s happening. On the opposite side, Patrick Stewart is downright terrifying as the venue’s charismatic leader, Darcy. This is brilliant casting, and he plays everything very understated, never succumbing to generic villainy, but something more nuanced, pragmatic and shrewd. Macon Blair, Saulnier’s stalwart gets a nice role here as well – I don’t wanna say too much about him, but his story is one that’s unexpected and brings another aspect of humanity to the story.
Green Room cements Jeremy Saulnier as a director creating must-see films with uncompromising thrills and thought-provoking intelligence. Once his latest film starts, it never looks back, culminating in an experience that continually reinvents itself and earns every emotional beat. You can come for the music or the artful collision of punk ethos and savage thrills, but either way, this isn’t one to be missed.