Tense, grizzly, and incredibly well-made, Green Room is a unique and incredibly strong entry in the thriller genre.
What can I say about Jeremy Saulnier’s dark and twisted Green Room that hasn’t already been said? It’s a movie that has never truly existed until now. Maybe the general premise has, but the way Saulnier tackles it is unique in almost every way. However, it’s this point-of-view of non-violent violence that I find the most interesting. He doesn’t linger on the violence or the gore of the film, which is impressive considering there’s a lot of it. Instead, he focuses on the characters and the story, which could easily fade into the background. This careful perspective makes Green Room one of the most successful genre films in the last few years.
The reason Saulnier’s last film Blue Ruin, which first brought him into the public eye, was so successful was because of its protagonist. He was an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. The Ain’t Rights, a fictional punk band touring the Pacific Northwest, definitely fits the bill. The movie begins with them in a cornfield after the band’s singer Tiger (Callum Turner) falls asleep behind the wheel. They are out of gas, which forces Pat (Anton Yelchin), the bassist, and Sam (Alia Shawkat), the guitarist, to find cars to siphon gas from. This small detail is interesting because it immediately pulls their innocence as people away. But Saunier’s screenplay redeems them as people by subtly detailing their commitment to each other as friends and bandmates.
The first 20 minutes or so is a phenomenal exercise in character building. Without any expositional dialogue, you learn the relationship between the bandmates and their personalities. Pat (Anton Yelchin) is the more reserved heart of the group, Reece (Joe Cole) is impulsive and aggressive, Tiger (Callum Turner) feels like the kid of the group, while Sam (Alia Shawkat) is devoted to all of them. Character details aren’t crammed down your throat. Instead, as the movie goes on we pick up on those character details as they’re needed.
After a performance goes bad, they take a gig at a neo-Nazi punk bar. Yeah, they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed. However, after spending some intimate moments with them during the beginning of the film, you realize that they’re taking the gig out of necessity. Needless to say, things don’t go quite as planned. After their set, during which they hilariously play “Nazi Punks F*ck Off,” Pat stumbles on a crime committed by one of the guys in the club. They are locked in the green room and must figure out how to escape before the fearsome Nazi leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) arrives with reinforcements. It’s punks vs. Nazis.
Unsurprisingly, it gets ugly – blades, dogs, and all. But not in the way you’d think.
Let’s get back to this non-violent violence. The premise is inherently a violent one. However, playing against genre tropes, Green Room doesn’t focus on the violence or really show much of it. The same goes for the gore. While it is there and present, he doesn’t dwell on it. In one intense scene, a character’s arm gets injured. Most directors would be interested in that aspect of the scene. Instead, Saulnier takes a look at what is happening around this one violent act. It’s incredibly refreshing after a period of time where it seemed that every movie wanted to be the next Saw.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some genre cliches. At one point a character even suggests they split up. However, it’s aware of its own “horror movie logic.” Another character immediately shuts down the idea of splitting up. I’m not going to put it lightly, these characters are dumb. But they feel real. The decision-making process is the same as yours or mine if we were in this situation. You’re not always going to make the smart decision under pressure. That’s what makes Green Room so unique. There aren’t any incredible acts of heroism or superhuman actions. It’s a movie that is as grounded in reality as possible. That goes for both sides. Even the neo-Nazis, who seem like fearsome villains, make mistakes and selfish decisions. There isn’t this horde mentality that often happens with the villains in these “escape” movies. Each one has their own distinct motivations and personalities. In particular, Gabe (Macon Blair) becomes the most interesting from the group.
As the movie progresses, sides are crossed, lives are lost, and the situation becomes dire. There are small pieces of plot that play in, but this movie is about the characters. That’s partially thanks to the actors. Anton Yelchin, who moves to the forefront among the band, is a phenomenally grounded character. His body language and line delivery suggest his reluctance to be the leader and his desire for this situation to just be over. Imogen Poots is also a standout as on of the Nazis who becomes shuffled in with the band. It’s surprisingly layered. On the surface, she’s this potentially insane, creepy presence. But small details reveal that there’s more there. Even something on the edge of caring. Patrick Stewart plays refreshingly against type. And while it’s a good performance, I really wished he had more to do. There wasn’t much depth to him.
Green Room is a movie that deserves to be rewatched. It’s really hard to articulate how well-made this movie is. I’ve watched it at least five times and still want to come back for more. There’s just so much in it to dissect and so many details to discover. Every time I watch it, I find something new or learn something different about a character. I see something happening in the background of a scene or a detail in the set. It’s a thoroughly realized piece of film that will hopefully retain the acclaim it has received. And, for the record, my desert island band would be…