The teeth-baring ferociousness on sharp-edged display in Jeremy Saulnier‘s intense new film, Green Room, rivals his previous film, 2014’s Blue Ruin, making it catnip for extreme action thriller devotees. Fascinating, forcible, and rough, Saulnier offers a punk rock variant on Rio Bravo – with a likeable rabble impossibly endangered in an under siege scenario – that’s also in analogous tradition to John Carpenter’s 1976 cult classic, Assault on Precinct 13, and exploitation cinema of that era.
Pat (Anton Yelchin) and his noisy punk band, The Ain’t Rights, are on the ass end of an awful tour. They’ve made no money, they regularly syphon gas to keep the tour van running to the next lousy gig and a few shitty decisions have landed them a headline gig at a backwoods skinhead bar. “The crowd there leans a little right,” warned the sketchy promoter.
The Ain’t Rights (which also includes Alia Shawkat, and Callum Turner) are embittered and affronted to be playing before a rowdy room of bigots and so, in true punk fashion, opt to open their set with a spirited cover of the Dead Kennedys’ classic “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, which predictably goes down like a lead balloon.
Their set list is soon the least of their worries when, after trying to make for the exit, Pat and Sam (Shawkat) witness the aftermath of something grisly in the eponymous green room. Soon that same room is all that stands between them and a blood-simple, vicious, and well-armed Neo-Nazi syndicate.
A tight script rife with moral ambiguity, social commentary, and B-movie tropes reaps maximum effect from a minimal means as Saulnier keeps the pace rapid, rabid, dark and relentlessly maintained. One brazenly executed action sequence follows another as duress and bloodshed reach a fever pitch.
Props go out to the boldly against type casting of Patrick Stewart as Darcy, the anti-Semitic ringleader, and Macon Blair’s Gabe, who we rooted for in Blue Ruin, here worthy of so much scorn. This type of anecdotal coup de mâitre, combined with the sustained intense onslaughts on our tapering protagonists effectively destroy any notions of assurance for the audience. In Green Room nothing is safe, survival is a fool’s paradise, and hope but a blink in a broken beer bottle.
Saulnier’s images run the range from radiant to horrific, from vicious to tender, lending an ultimately tragic tone buoyed by vérité-style hand-held sequences. Yes, violence detonates in terrible succession but is shown ferociously, never for comic reprieve – though humor is present to sustain the drama.
A more thought-provoking and brilliantly paced horror film with so palpable a physicality as Green Room is rare, and on such a modest budget, this tale of terra incognita cruelty is remarkable.
The sold-out VIFF crowd were on their feet cheering by the end, and afterwards I had to alternate hot and cold compress to my wrist due to all my frantic fist pumping. Now, hours after the experience, I’m suffering what I can only describe as survivor’s guilt. Miss this movie at your own peril.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)