Ever since writer/director Jeremy Saulnier came out with his gripping revenge film Blue Ruin, fans have been patiently waiting to see what he’d do next. If you have not had the chance to see Blue Ruin and you are a fan of the revenge genre, it’s a film that is certainly a must-see and is one of the few films that lives up to the hype that surrounds it. The problem with doing such a strong and powerful film so early in your career is that expectations seem to just skyrocket, and it seems there is just no way you can make everyone happy. As a fan first and critic second, I know I’ve been guilty of doing this in the past. It’s almost impossible to not get excited, and at the screening for this film I know I was not the only one with high expectations.
On top of the high expectations, the group I viewed the film with was restless after having the film delayed as well, so this only seems to be another strike against the film before it’s even had a chance to play. I mention all this for the simple reason that this film reminded me of the importance of shutting out all expectations and simply letting the film stand on its own merit. This is important because I feel Saulnier knew the expectations he had, and instead of playing it safe he did something that very few filmmakers are willing to do any;ore, he simply made a movie that is not just gripping and intense, but most importantly, it was fun.
Green Room is relatively straightforward as we follow a young punk band as they are touring the northwest coast of the US, all their gear stashed in their van as they struggle to get gigs to pay for food and gas. Even gas is difficult enough to come by, and at times the band is forced to siphon gas to get to the next gig. And a gig really is nothing more than a restaurant where no one seems to be paying them any attention. It’s when an indie-punk critic finds them a gig that things start to get interesting. The gig takes the band out of the city and into a bar in the middle of the woods, and to make matters a little more intense, the owners and the patrons of the establishment are all skinheads. Basically this is the setup for the punk show from backwoods hell.
Pat (Anton Yelchin) is the quiet leader of the band; he doesn’t seem to have any of the qualities you want in a leader, but nevertheless the band sticks close to him and his decisions. We don’t get much of their performance, but we get to see enough that they’ve managed to win over some members of the audience, and once they get paid they are more than eager to leave, except everything changes because a member of the group leaves their phone behind, and when Pat goes to retrieve it, he walks into the aftermath of a murder.
Pat and his group are locked away in their green room, the backstage room basically, while the employees of the club attempt to sort out what happened, and from here things only get worse. When Darcy (Patrick Stewart), the owner of the club, arrives, you know right off the bat this is a bad dude, but does he really want to harm Pat and the rest of the band, or does he simply want to clean up this incident and send everyone on their merry way? It’s that doubt that seems to keep Pat from opening the door and letting Darcy’s people in, but quickly the situation only escalates. And that is what makes this film work; the film constantly increases the tension and tightens its grip on the band as they struggle to do whatever they can to not just make it through the situation but eventually survive the night.
It’s very easy to compare this to Assault on Precinct 13 or Rio Bravo, and yes, I certainly do see that. But what makes this film more unique is that unlike those films we get to hang out with the villains as they strategize how best to flush our heroes out. To a degree we can at least understand that Darcy is simply just protecting his business, and as the night progresses we see even he has something more personal at stake to lose.
This is a vicious film. In Blue Ruin we got to see Saulnier as he showed violence in a very harsh and in-your-face manner, and in Green Room he is even more in-your-face with it and is not going to let the camera look away. Every attack is brutal; this isn’t about a high body count, but instead this is about the raw savagery needed to survive when your back is against the wall.
This is the kind of dark and gritty film you want to see with a crowd. This is the kind of high-energy film you find during a midnight screening, or you would have found at a drive-in theater during the grindhouse glory days. Imogen Poots, Mark Webber, and Macon Blair also contribute some intense performances that step this film up from being your standard direct-to-video fare as does the startling camera work from Sean Porter. While I can’t say this film is ‘better” than Blue Ruin, you can definitely see that Saulnier is on track to continue to become one of the more exciting filmmakers out there. His take-no-prisoners approach to violence and writing relatable characters is a strength that will only continue to help forge his path in the industry. He’s a talent film fans are going to be sure to gravitate to as the divide between blockbuster films and indie cinema only continues to widen.