Nearly two months ago I wrote a review for the instant horror classic, THE WITCH. It was an amazing masterclass of dread and horror by an up-and-coming director. It came out of nowhere and it completely kicked my ass. I didn’t think I would have a cinematic experience in 2016 that could possibly rival what I felt in the theater that day. Then I saw GREEN ROOM.
GREEN ROOM is Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to his surprise indie tension piece, BLUE RUIN. That movie showed what it would take for an every-man with a vendetta to actually pull off an assassination. It was wonderful and really announced Saulnier as a talent to watch. GREEN ROOM, however, announces him as a filmmaker to fear. His command of tension and tone is absolutely on par with the work that Robert Eggers displayed with THE WITCH. They are both modern masterpieces that have a 100% success rate with what they set out to do. What they set out to do is mess their audience up something proper and give them a cinematic thrill ride that they will not possibly soon forget.
The movie begins with a punk band on tour in the Northwest corner of the country. They are barely making ends meet and are about to pull the plug on the whole endeavor. Before they pack up, however, a fan/journalist hooks them up with a gig at a backwoods metal venue owned and operated by white supremacists. After they play their set, one of the band members forgets their phone in the green room. Anton Yelchin’s Pat goes to retrieve it and walks in on a murder that they were not meant to see. From there the movie becomes a siege film with the band holed up in the locked green room and a horde of Nazi skinheads trying to break in to wipe them all out.
That is all I am willing to get into about the plot of the movie and I implore you that this should be all that you read about what happens. The movie is a constantly surprising thing that never gives the audience or the characters within the movie an out. There are no “deus ex machinas” in this movie and there are no easy decisions or actions. The characters are constantly thinking, reacting, and attempting to be proactive to every obstacle that comes between them and getting out of this hell hole. That makes for a brutal experience for the audience that must sit helplessly in the theater watching intense violence inflicted upon these characters you really like.
The meanest thing that Saulnier does is give you a little time at the head of the movie to experience and become fond of these characters before they fall into their waking nightmare. Each character is perfectly etched and cast. I’ve never liked Anton Yelchin as much as I liked him here. He does wonderful, understated, and vulnerable work as Pat, the band’s front man. Alia Shawkat is equally as wonderful as the intensely smart Sam who gets some great fist pumping heroic moments. Callum Turner and Joe Cole round out the remaining members of the band and do a lot of great work. I absolutely bought these characters as friends and band mates. Imogen Poots also has a career best turn as Amber, a white supremacist who gets caught on the wrong side of this battle and becomes a bigger and bigger presence in the film as it unfolds.
The white supremacists are all extremely well cast. The army of skinheads who are tasked with taking out the band are all terrific and bring a humanity to these characters that allows them to be more than just faceless aggressors or canon fodder. Two of the big standouts are Macon Blair (the lead of BLUE RUIN) and Eric Edelstein. They both bring their A-game and really leave lasting impressions. However, they all pale in comparison to the great Sir Patrick Stewart who provides the film with an enormous amount of quiet gravitas and simmering menace. This is the type of performance I have always wanted from Stewart. His performance is extremely restrained, always causing you to lean forward because you don’t want to miss a syllable that exits his classically trained mouth. In a better world a performance like this would get some awards attention. All I can hope for is that we get to see more of this Sir Patrick in the future.
Saulnier’s greatest strengths in this movie are his usage of set and space. We are continuously seeing the same areas of the music venue and it never once felt stale. The way that he shoots his sequences and the energy that he brings to every shot prohibits the audience from ever getting tired with a moment in the film. That strength is teamed with a gleefully abundant usage of really upsetting gore. I’m not one to shy away from serious violence on film, but there were moments in the movie that actually had me aching to turn away from the screen. An early injury inflicted upon a main character practically turned my stomach and really set the tone for the rest of the movie. These characters are in deep trouble and not a single one of them is safe.
At this point, I’ve said enough about the film. If you have a stomach that can handle intense gore and a taste for cinema that truly wants something exciting and harrowing… You will not be able to do better than GREEN ROOM. I can’t wait to see it again and whatever else the masterful Jeremy Saulnier has to offer in the future.