Punk Rockers vs Neo Nazis. It’s a surprisingly apt distillation of Jeremy Saulnier’s latest film, Green Room, a pulpy siege thriller that is as vicious as it is efficient. Saulnier made a name for himself with the 2013 Cannes darling Blue Ruin, a haunting and poetic revenge film. His latest film might lack the poetry of Blue Ruin, but what it’s missing in introspection it makes up for in pure kick to the head grit.
Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) stars as Pat, the bassist in a fringe punk rock band that includes Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), Joe Cole (Secret in Their Eyes) and Callum Turner (Victor Frankenstein). When a show on the tail end of their tour gets cancelled, they score a last minute gig at a backwoods bar in order to scrape together enough money for the gas to get home. When the bar turns out to be a Bastian for an Aryan brotherhood type crowd, the band just wants to play and get out as fast as possible. Things go sideways when they find a murdered girl in the backstage green room and they soon find themselves locked inside with Amber, Imogen Poots (Need for Speed) the murdered girl’s friend. On the opposite side of the door is Darcy (Patrick Stewart,X-Men), the club’s owner, determined that there be no witnesses.
It’s a simple premise, and Saulnier plays it out with brutal efficiency. That’s not to say there isn’t a surprise or two to be had. This back woods bar is quite a bit more than it seems on the surface, and as everyone’s true motives boil to the surface, Pat and his band mates learn that their gig is the perfect storm of wrong time and wrong place. The lion’s share of Green Room plays out like a siege with guns, machetes, and attack dogs. Darcy’s gang of ‘red laces’, named for the color laces earned by skinheads ready to get bloody, operates with a military efficiency.
It’s a fascinating subculture that doesn’t quite get the deep dive it deserves, but is presented with sufficient nuance with Saulnier taking time to plumb the appeal of the skinhead lifestyle. We see Darcy act as a skinhead father figure to the gang, which includes Mark Webber (Scott Pilgrim vs The World) and Macon Blair (Blue Ruin) who longs to earn his red laces. Others are simply looking for a direction to point their hatred. As Imogen Poots puts it, none of the problems in her life were ever caused by white people; a statement the band is all too quick to point out is no longer true.
Whereas Blue Ruin took a long, sober look at the idea of redemption through violence, Saulnier’s latest film has no allusions about deliverance. It’s an unflinching look at instinctual survival and the savage length we will go to in order to protect what’s ours. And make no mistake; this is a savage film. There’s a chilling, almost clumsy realism to the way the violence erupts unceremoniously on the poor punk rockers. It’s a shame that the film starts to lose steam towards the end, once the fight becomes less about survival and more about a moral ideal. That’s not to say it’s not satisfying, but it’s a shame the film rolls to a stop when its spent so much time barreling full speed ahead.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
Salnier’s latest sticks a little closer to its pulp genre roots than his previous effort, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It boasts a cast full of strong performances with particularly solid efforts from Yelchin, Poots and Stewart, who takes on his role as a skinhead kingpin with terrifying calm. The film runs out of steam a few minutes shy of its running time, but some viewers may breathe a sigh of relief after an hour and a half of razor sharp filmmaking. Green Room isn’t the genre-bending thriller that made Blue Ruin so successful, but it’s a savage thrill ride that will keep even the most jaded viewers on the edge of their seats.