Punks-versus-Nazis thriller Green Room is ‘a tight, taut, pressure cooker of a movie’ says MacDara Conroy
It wasn’t his first feature film – that would be the little-seen 2007 horror comedy Murder Party – but Jeremy Saulnier’s calling card was undoubtedly 2013’s micro-budget festival favourite Blue Ruin, a bleak but refreshing twist on the revenge thriller that pits an orphaned drifter against his demons, and surveys the catastrophic results. Tension is the word as the writer-director’s sinewy script puts damaged Dwight (Macon Blair) through the ringer on his stumbling, short-sighted path of vengeance, one that almost immediately spills out of his grasp.
It’s all the more powerful because for the sheer humanity of it; our protagonist, though a down-and-out, is an everyman, and his actions and responses, while lacking sense and perspective, are fuelled by believable, heart-racing emotion. Though everything Dwight does is on the face of it a ‘bad idea’, there’s a big part of us that knows we might do the very same. That’s where the true horror lies.
Saulnier taps that vein again in his latest film, which comes with another chromatic title. So more of the same? Not so fast. While Green Room shares some similarities with Blue Ruin, it’s a decidedly different beast, not about the consequences of actions best avoided but rather what to do in a situation that blows up beyond your control.
That’s what happens to the ensemble at the heart of the tale, a DIY hardcore band gigging from sleepy town to sleepy town in the Pacific North West, scamming and getting scammed, road-weariness setting in hard. Against their better judgement, desperation for gas money makes them take a gig at a white supremacist club deep in the backwoods. Bratty punks as they are – among them Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) – they only make things worse by kicking off their set with a notorious anti-racist ditty to rile up the skins.
But the real trouble begins after the show, when they stumble upon the scene of a murder backstage and find themselves, along with a club regular (Imogen Poots), besieged by a ruthless neo-Nazi gang (led by a menacing Patrick Stewart) who can’t leave any witnesses to the crime. Hence the comparisons to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, but Saulnier’s film feels more primal than that, more like Deliverance or Southern Comfort, less a calculating chess game than a frantic fight for survival as strategies on both sides unravel, numbers dwindle, and loyalties and principles are tested to the limit.
Audiences may be tested, too, by a handful of unflinching gore scenes – including a particularly nasty injury inflicted on Yelchin’s wiry Pat – but the film would be less without them, those unbearable moments that make us wince in sympathy with characters far more relatable than we’ve come to expect from modern horror.
And that’s exactly what Green Room is: a proper modern horror, one where both the boogeymen and their hapless victims are uncomfortably real. It’s also one where Saulnier’s years in the trenches as an amateur filmmaker with childhood friend Blair (who appears here as one of Stewart’s foot soldiers) pay dividends. Despite a bigger budget and more name talent at his disposal, Saulnier doesn’t stray far from the already technically accomplished look and feel of Blue Ruin, with its evocative use of framing and magic-hour light. But it’s really all about that short, sharp shock of a story. The result is a tight, taut, pressure cooker of a movie with punk-rock spirit to spare.