Soon to be one of the most sought after filmmakers in North America, Jeremy Saulnier is a name that people should know right now. Over two years ago, I was going through my Netflix queue and came across Blue Ruin, a little revenge film made for under half a million dollars, written and directed by Saulnier and featuring a blistering performance from Macon Blair, a common staple in all of his features. This thriller knocked me on my ass and left me thirsty for more. Like I’ve said previously about Midnight Special writer/director Jeff Nichols, Jeremy Saulnier belongs in the same category as some of the best American filmmakers emerging in the last five to ten years and in that exact time from now will be regarded as the masters of their craft.
Green Room marks Jeremy Saulnier’s first feature that will see a wide release and one that features a young cast of established actors, with some newcomers, including Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat and Mark Webber. This group goes head to head with a central villain that the word formidable just completely undersells a major actor, Royal Shakespeare Company veteran and Star Trek favorite, Patrick Stewart. With a great cast that knows what they’re doing, Saulnier’s script just flows and fuels this intense and bloody story of survival and makeshift warfare with a well-organized enemy.
The film is about a punk band called “The A’int Rights”, who are touring through the Pacific Northwest. After an interview spot with a small town radio host, they are set up for a small club show just outside of Portland, Oregon. Needing both the cash and the exposure, the band’s members Pat (Yelchin), Sam (Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) are all convinced this is an interesting opportunity but this becomes a bit iffy when they show up at the gig, which happens to be a neo-Nazi skinhead bar. Unfettered and a bit cocky, the band does a cover of the Dead Kennedys song “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off” that quickly turns the violent crowd against them.
After the show, while packing up, Sam forgets her phone in the club green room and sends Pat to go get it. When he gets in the room he sees two of the club members standing over the dead body of a girl with a knife embedded in her skull. Quickly the rest of the band is shoved into the green room and the door is locked behind them by two of the club bouncers, Gabe and Big Justin. At gunpoint, their phones are taken from them and they are instructed to wait for the club’s owner, Darcy (Stewart). When Darcy arrives he is informed of all that happened by his men and quickly concludes the band is to be killed to rid them of any witnesses to their crime. When the foursome gets wind of this they fight like caged animals to escape with their lives, against the soft-spoken and seemingly helpful voice that Darcy tries to confuse them with.
A major warning upfront, Green Room has an unflinching brutality to it that will constantly hit you in the stomach with its realism and churn your guts with in your face gore and blood. For the entire duration of Green Room, I white-knuckle gripped the arm of the seat I was perched on for the duration of the film and vocally reacted to this wild rollercoaster I was put on. It’s kind of rare these days that a crime thriller like this will draw you in so much that you are constantly shocked by each character decision and motivation that you have no idea what will happen next. This movie made me want to crawl inside Jeremy Saulnier’s head to figure out what makes him tick and where he pulls all these incredible ideas from.
Without characters that compel you, a film like Green Room would fall very flat and it’s really a true blessing that Jeremy Saulnier is impeccable at creating well-rounded people on the screen. Like Dwight in Blue Ruin, you are on board with the disaffected youth in our central band “The A’int Rights” and extending beyond that, you’re even on board when the band brings the murdered girl’s friend Amber (Poots) into the fold in hopes to survive. This is all made that much more of the yin and yang quality with Patrick Stewart’s Darcy character. His pragmatic attitude goes against the usual frazzled and completely panicked villains we are usually shown in genre films like this and that sort of reasoning demeanor never goes away, even leading up to the final moment of the film.
Green Room is not a film for the faint of heart but is going to leave the hard-core fans raving to their friends about the incredible experience that this film is. Had I seen it early on in my Vancouver International Film Festival schedule, it likely would have overshadowed my entire time of being there. Luckily I took it in on the final day and before two very awful films which just made it shine that much more. It’s easy to say that Green Room is a film you are not going to want to miss, whether that is in theatres or as you cover your eyes in the Cineplex, shielding yourself from the events on the screen. I love this movie and it’s a perfect five out of five.