“For those who can get into [the film’s] relentless, chaotic rhythm, this is exactly the kind of movie you always wish would come about more often.”
by Ken Bakely
Jeremy Saulnier makes movies about violence, rather than violent movies. You see, in both of his most well-known features – Blue Ruin, and now Green Room – every injury sustained by a protagonist is directly impactful, delivering a shock to the viewer in its blunt realization and lack of romanticizing. Saulnier is a filmmaker who’s getting to know his strengths with rapid efficiency, as proven by the script he has written here – a suspenseful race against malicious forces, claustrophobically confined mostly to the crummy green room of an even crummier skinhead club in the Oregonian forest, set against an unforgiving punk soundtrack. Saulnier’s continued mastery of the exploitation aesthetic is obvious – every shot is cast in unsettling, uncomfortable shades, from the dusty yellows of a rundown roadside diner to the sickly tones of the titular space’s fluorescent lights. In the process, even flesh tones are denied livelihood. The only “life color” left until the very end is red, from the blood which is provided in measured but all-too-effective quantities.
Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat, and Callum Turner portray the four members of The Ain’t Rights, a struggling punk band who book a shady gig at said skinhead club, located on the outskirts of Portland. After their performance, however, they return to the green room and stumble upon a grisly scene – a young woman’s body on the ground, viciously stabbed. Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the deceased, also finds herself thrust into this scenario. Immediately recognizing that these visitors will likely contact the police, the club’s burly bouncer (Eric Edelstein) is stationed in the room and refuses to let the group leave the space. The establishment’s owner, the poetically named Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart), cryptically states that everything is being taken care of. This is not the case, of course, and it becomes obvious rather immediately. But what are they supposed to do? An early attempt at escaping pans out to be little more than a close brush with death. But on the other hand, no one knows what will happen if they stick around much longer, and it’s certainly not worth finding out.
Saulnier takes an appropriately gradual approach to the proceedings until a key moment in the first act, when conventional genre rules are thrown out and a more personal brand of filmmaking is established: Green Room is a confirmation of his philosophy of relative realism, and that no one is guaranteed to make it through unscathed, or at all, an outright rejection of the concept that heroes survive impossible situations with little more than dust and dirt marring their person. A particularly gruesome moment early on in the 95 minute film ends with Yelchin’s character having his right arm brutally hacked to bits by an unseen weapon, coinciding with the exact moment where Saulnier lays all his cards out on the table. For those who can get into its relentless, chaotic rhythm, this is exactly the kind of movie you always wish would come about more often.
Yet in this mayhem, Green Room establishes a thesis of its own along the way, a bitter, lashing irony characterizing the juxtaposition between anger in art in anger in real life. The Ain’t Rights, for all of their furious covers and original compositions, are confronted with understandable, petrifying fear when their lives are cast into unquestionable danger. This makes Saulnier’s film more than an exploitation throwback about twentysomethings stacked against violent fascists – it’s about this sudden emergence of necessary animalism when confronted with the same, similar to how Blue Ruin’s deeper quest beyond the bullet points of the revenge subgenre reflected Saulnier’s interest in exploring these deeper themes under a grindhouse veneer. An impending apocalypse faces these characters, the details imprecise, but the outcome almost certain if left untouched. Mistakes, some egregious, will be made. And Saulnier captures this last-ditch desperation through his camera, translating raw emotion and energy into a messy and catatonic movie. While he loses some of the more clever and finer points that could have been visualized, in its place, there is a substitute nearly as satisfying, perhaps for different reasons and rationalizations, but an unleashed, wild ride nonetheless.