Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier, whose previous two films I recently reviewed, has quickly become one of my favorite directors working today. I found his first film, Murder Party, to be a fun little horror-comedy piece that’s worth the watch, although maybe not the most memorable film I’ve seen recently. His follow-up, Blue Ruin, saw Saulnier making a foray into the revenge genre, and it’s a film I’ve gone as far as to declare a “modern American masterpiece.” Saulnier continues his hot streak by returning to the horror genre, but this time with the brutal, fast-paced, punk rock horror-thriller Green Room.
Green Room is a film that will leave you feeling dirty, exhausted, and ultimately satisfied. It’s a grimy film filled with vile characters, and it feels most comfortable when displaying scenes of maiming and mutilation. It’s also an absolute blast to sit through as you excitedly watch a hardcore punk band attempt to barely scrape by with their lives as they fight dozens of murderous neo-Nazis.
The band is the Ain’t Rights, and it’s comprised of four members: Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner). Our introduction to the band isn’t the most flattering, as we see them siphon gas to continue their failing tour. They meet with a local radio station DJ who sets them up with a new gig at a neo-Nazi-run bar in the outskirts of Portland. It’s not so much their crowd, but it pays relatively well, so they take it.
Recognizing the crowd, the band humorously opens with a cover of an old Dead Kennedys song, “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” As you’d expect, the patrons of the bar don’t take this act lightly, but this isn’t actually what sparks the murder spree that ensues later in the film. It’s when Pat goes to grab Sam’s phone from the green room after they’re supposed to have left already, that Pat discovers two club members hovering over a girl’s bloodied, dead body. He attempts to phone the police, but is apprehended along with the rest of the band.
It’s from here that we’re introduced to Darcy, the owner of the club. Darcy is played by renowned stage actor Patrick Stewart. And while this is a role unlike any Patrick Stewart has ever really taken, he unsurprisingly gives a solid, chilling performance as the cold-hearted, neo-Nazi leader. At first, Darcy actually comes off as level-headed and calm — nice, even. It is perhaps this pleasantness that makes Darcy such a threat at first. And while I do believe that this character initially makes for an interesting antagonist, he’s lost in the chaotic shuffle that is the second act of the film, and his villainous potential is eventually squandered by the end.
Anyway, Darcy and the band attempt to make amends, but this quickly goes nowhere as the band becomes increasingly suspect of Darcy’s real intentions. Of course things turn sour, and Darcy calls for his goons to swiftly kill the band members. For the next hour or so up until the time the credits begin to roll, Green Room is one of the most intense and heart-racingly thrilling horror films I’ve seen in quite some time. Many of the characters are killed off in quick succession in increasingly gruesome and unexpected ways, making for a realistic, sudden, and truly unpredictable film.
It’s not just the protagonists who are picked off in mass numbers, though. The perfect hero to oppose Darcy and his skinhead army is Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the girl who was killed in the first place, and also in the green room at the time of the murder. While she may not look like much, she ends up being the most badass character in the entire film, racking up a large headcount and doing so in some really inventive ways. She makes for a particularly exciting version of the “final girl” trope.
Tightly paced, exhilarating, and especially unnerving, Green Room is simply a great horror film. Perhaps it isn’t too unfair to have expected a grander follow-up to Saulnier’s incredible previous film Blue Ruin, as Green Room doesn’t exactly see Saulnier take the same ambitious jump from Blue Ruin to Green Room as he had with the qualitative jump from Murder Party to Blue Ruin. While that could end up making Green Room a disappointment for some, it’s clear that Saulnier set out to make a taut, bare-bones thriller, and he’s more than succeeded here.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor