A couple of years ago Jeremy Saulnier and his buddy Macon Blair set the genre world on fire with “Blue Ruin”, a tough little revenge thriller that showed a ton of promise. While the brutality and realism of it stood out, what made that film so great was its humanity. The lead character was a regular guy, someone we could relate to as he fumbled his way through one heinous act after another. With the equally vicious “Green Room” Saulnier sets his sights on the invasion flick, an “Assault on Precinct 13”-style barnburner that retains the personal character moments that are quickly becoming the filmmaker’s trademark.
The premise is simple: failing punk rock band The Ain’t Rights, featuring Tiger (Callum Turner), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat), bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin), and drummer Reece (Joe Cole), get stiffed on a gig but are clued in to another one down in Portland. Once arriving they quickly come to realize that much of the rowdy, bald-headed clientele are neo-Nazi skinheads. The club’s manager, David (Blair), seems like an alright guy but some others seem ready for a fight. With tensions already high and the band ready to just collect their cash and jet, they accidentally stumble on a girl’s murder in the green room. Obviously, they can’t be allowed to just leave, and they’re hold up in the room with the victim’s best friend, Amber (Imogen Poots), their hostage Big Justin (Eric Edelstein), and a loaded gun with only a handful of bullets.
Like “Blue Ruin”, Saulnier’s script slowly dials up the tension to an almost unbearable level. When Patrick Stewart arrives as the skinheads’ leader, Darcy, his soothing we normally associate with authority only makes the situation more intense. It isn’t long before the blood starts to flow and people start dying, and the violence has real impact. The band members aren’t trained killers or action heroes, they’re normal people in a terrifying situation. While there isn’t a ton of time for deep characterization, Saulnier’s tight, muscular script affords just enough opportunities. A mostly unspoken debate lingers throughout about the band’s true punk rock credentials, with each member offering their favorite “deserted island” bands. Yelchin stands out as the de facto leader as Pat, but he’s hardly what one would call a brave warrior. Poots has always been good at playing tough women and she’s great here, as well, although Amber’s motivations remain somewhat unclear.
Bullets, teeth, blades, blood gets spilled in ways that are incredibly tough to watch, and DP Sean Porter captures it in grisly fashion. Visually and thematically Saulnier is treading on familiar ground, but he’s one of the best at it right now. He keeps finding new, fresh ways to explore violence, and “Green Room” is easily one of the best genre films in a long time.