Harrowing, fully engrossing, Green Room aims straight for the jugular and cuts deeps. The film from writer-director Jeremy Saulnier is easily one of the more gruesome, intense and successful films of the year, a strong contender for top 10 lists for 2016 and one that will be difficult to forget. The set up for the film is delightfully simple, while the resulting conflict and fight for survival is rich in complexity and taut with tension. The story slowing slides into a position of inescapable danger and certain doom like a roller coast slowly approaching that first shocking drop. Saulnier affords himself the opportunity to establish the core cast, a punk rock band called “The Ain’t Rights,” in a natural manner which makes them real, rich characters despite knowing very little about them. By the time their adventure takes that hard turn toward disaster, the audience is fully invested in them and their survival fueling the rest of the film. Anthon Yelchin gives his best performance yet as Pat, the band’s bassist and conflicted heart while Patrick Stewart turns in a commanding and frightening performance as Darcy. Green Room is a must see film, one that benefits from knowing as little as possible heading in, establishing – along with Blue Ruin – Jeremy Saulnier as a promising director with a distinct voice and a fascinating approach to film.
The story of Green Room is deceptively straight forward: a punk rock band scores a last minute gig at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar in the sticks of Oregon, witness something they shouldn’t and end up fighting for survival. What is so fascinating about the story is how it establishes, molds and colors its characters. Jeremy Saulnier’s script is void of excruciating exposition and voice overs, he lets his character breath and live in the world he is constructing. By the time The Ain’t Rights play “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” on stage, the audience has befriended Pat (Anton Yelchin), Reece (Joe Cole), Sam (Alia Shawkat) and Tiger (Callum Turner) which makes the horrors that await them that much more frightening. Saulnier also manages to mirror the care taken with the protagonists with a vast array of antagonists from Gabe (Macon Blair) – the bar manager, Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) – the muscle and Daniel (Mark Webber) – the doorman with a secret of his own. Saulnier’s ace up his sleeve is Darcy (Patrick Stewart) the bar owner and leader of the skinheads who controls the situation with precision and without mercy. The result is a fight for survival that is a mixture of punk rebellion, slasher shocks and Die Hard sensibilities that is desolate and grim but never so much so that the film drowns in its own despair.
Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Fright Night, Odd Thomas) perfects his everyman delivery as Pat, the bassist for The Ain’t Rights. His dialog provide Yelchin with the opportunity to give Pat conviction and drive as the soul, the voice and conscience for the band. Alia Shawkay’s Sam is essentially the leader of the group, but Pat is the glue. He is also imperfect, often uncertain of his choices and resistant to taking action early on. While his creed to his music is strong, his strength of character is still under question and has yet to be tested or nurtured. This depth to his character keeps the outcome of his survival extraordinarily unpredictable. In fact, in another director’s hands the film could easily have been shifted to Imogen Poot’s character Amber or that of Sam. What makes Yelchin’s Pat so effective is that he appears to always be thinking about his surroundings and his predicament alternating between opportunities for survival and the horrors of certain death. He bleeds a volatile cocktail of fear and determination.
Patrick Stewart, on the other hand, is pure confidence, his Darcy is an imposing, commanding character always in control, always ready for any situation, ready to pounce, strike and obliterate what ever is in his way. Yet, he rarely acts himself or even raises his voice. It is that calm demeanor that fills his character with antipathy and fulmination. When Stewart’s Darcy speaks, everyone listens. Where Darcy walks, people clear the path. When Darcy says “Jump” it is not about how high, it’s about how fucking hard. Darcy is a performance from Stewart that is on par – and, in some ways, exceeds – his signatures roles of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Professor X. There is an air of “cool” to Darcy that is easy to admire despite how despicable a human being he represents.
Jeremy Saulnier impresses with Green Room in how he handles the material, the violence and the character development. He defines his film with broad but precise strokes of creative genius providing only what it is necessary to motivate and illuminate the characters, the environments, the situations. Everything else is left to interpretation of the audience. This serves Green Room greatly, a delicious invitation to become interested and invested in the story and the fates of Pat, Sam, Amber and the band. What he shares about Darcy and his crew is frightening enough on its own but what is implied that goes on beyond the immediate dilemma is even more so chilling – even the smallest possibility is too horrifying to consider.
What is equally impressive is what and how Jeremy Saulnier decides to show with the film’s more violent encounters. Some horrific acts are hidden behind a closed door or just off frame allowing the imagination to spike and tingle while other shots are gloriously presented in full frame accenting how impersonal the attacks are – it’s business, protecting the business. For Pat and friends however it holds a heart-stopping sobering shock and horror. What may be the most unnerving, seeing everything through the perspective of Pat and crew, is what is so inconceivable to them is so …normal… to Darcy and his crew. In some cases, they crave it. Saulnier washes the film with that realization ramping up the tension and uneasy expectations.
Green Room should be experienced with a little information going in as possible. The film resonates, illustrating the biggest horror mankind faces is mankind itself. Jeremy Saulnier stakes his claim as the up-and-coming writer-director to keep an eye on with Green Room. It is a cinematic exercise in structure, economy, focus and drive with every decision informing the narrative and fueling the audience. Once Pat steps back into the green room, the film grabs its audience by the balls and never lets go. The cast is near perfect with Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots leading the way, although for a great deal of the film Alia Shawkat provide a notably strong performance that sees her steal the film for much of the first act. Patrick Steward takes command of the film as he steps in to take control of the situation. When he is on screen, everyone – audience included – takes notice. He rules supreme and it is magnificent. The effects accenting the scenes of violence are brutal and horrifying. Green Room is a tense thriller, a fight for survival, that is exhilarating and satisfying.
Green Room (4.8 / 5)