Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin was melancholy for a revenge flick. It was entertaining, it was brutal, it was funny at times. But it also wove all that around cycles of grief and pointless vengeance. It was more tragedy than thriller. The same cannot be said of his follow-up film, Green Room. This one wants to horrify you, tear you a new asshole, then make you pump your fists in the air as the good guys mete out bloody, cathartic vengeance. It is a masterfully crafted siege action film, singleminded in its determination to put its audience through the wringer.
Our heroes, the Ain’t Rights, are a struggling young punk band who, through an unfortunate series of events, end up playing a white supremacist club in the middle of nowhere. In the lead-up to that fateful show, Saulnier takes his time. He introduces the characters casually, showing daily life on the road. By the time they’re playing a defiant cover of The Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” to a packed house of Nazi punks you know the broad strokes of who they are and what they’re capable of. Once everything goes sideways, the film is freed to flesh them out through action.
And things do go sideways. Having finished a surprisingly well-received show at the neo-Nazi club, they stumble across a murder scene in the green room. Darcy (Patrick Stewart!), the owner of the club, wants to keep a lid on the whole thing. But the kids are the only witnesses who aren’t on his payroll or under his influence.
The Nazis’ reassuring words aside, the Ain’t Rights realize what’s up and hole up in the green room. What follows is a spectacularly tense series of moves and countermoves, punctuated with cringe-inducing violence. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, as the joy of the film is in the ride, but suffice it to say that the Ain’t Rights aren’t simple slasher movie victims. They’re human and make mistakes but they’re also resourceful. Darcy is a cold and calculating antagonist, but he has his work cut out for him when it comes to these kids.
For their part, the Nazis are, well… Nazis. They make for easy villains. Boo! Hiss! The Ain’t Rights are a bunch of white kids so, aside from the occasional slur and Confederate battle flag on the wall, we don’t get much in the way of their worldview. The lack of non-white characters means we don’t see the Nazis at their worst, which turns them from a real world band of assholes to straight-up movie villains. I confess this bugged me a bit, but then again a band with non-white members wouldn’t play at a Nazi club!
Loathsome politics aside, what really makes the Nazis work as villains is the worldbuilding. As the film progresses we get a better sense of the their power structure, their slang, and their culture. It reminds me of Mad Max: Fury Road and John Wick in how it adds texture and suggests backstory without exposition dumps. The Nazis are much more interesting than a simple gang of criminals.
The cast doesn’t have any weak links. As you might expect, Stewart is great as Darcy, bringing an understated, predatory quality to a part that a lesser actor might have hammed up. Anton Yelchin is solid as the band leader, Pat. Between this and Odd Thomas, he’s established himself in my mind as a slight dude who’s surprisingly good in action roles. Another standout is Imogen Poots, who lends a lot of pathos to the role of Amber, an angry and resigned white supremacist girl who ends up stuck in the shit alongside the Ain’t Rights.
Green Room is a simple film in certain ways, but that’s not to say it isn’t smart. A film has to be smart to pull off what this film pulls off so well, and you can’t “turn your brain off” and still enjoy it properly. It’s not introspective or ambivalent in the way that Blue Ruin is, but it’s to Saulnier’s credit that he went in a different direction. Green Room is an amazing piece of genre filmmaking: bloody, tense, funny and a fucking ball.
Shannon’s [Rating: 4.5]
A24 will release Green Room in US cinemas in April 2016.