A Review of Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room: Blood, Punk Rock, and neo-Nazis in the Pacific Northwest

greenroom

Film: Green Room
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Primary Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat, Macon Blair, Mark Webber, Callum Turner, Joe Cole, David W Thompson, Kai Lennox, Eric Edelstein, Brent Wernzer
US Release Date: 29 April 2016

The Ain’t Rights are a punk rock band. The group consists of four members, Pat (Yelchin), Sam (Shawkat), Tiger (Callum), and Reece (Cole). They have no money, they have no online presence, and they are in desperate need of a gig. So, after assaulting the ears of lunchtime diners at a Mexican restaurant for a few bucks each, the band agrees to play a show at a rural club located somewhere in the backwoods of Oregon.

Unfortunately for the Ain’t Rights, the club is run by ruthless skinheads, one of whom murders a girl while the band is playing their set. When Pat stumbles in on the body lying in the green room just as he and his friends are about to leave, he plunges everyone present into a nightmare of considerable proportions.

Upon realizing what Pat has seen—and, more importantly, that he managed to call the police—club manager Gabe (Blair) quickly begins damage control. He traps both the Ain’t Rights and the murder victim’s friend Amber (Poots) in the green room. After handling the cops, Gabe goes to his boss and the club’s owner, Darcy (Stewart), to explain the situation. And once Darcy steps in, flesh, blood, and blades begin to fly.

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room is sharp, dark, and relentless. Like the young rockers it puts through its neo-Nazi wringer, this intense film is brimming with violent creative energy, and it makes the most of its resources. Though its setting, premise, and scope are all limited, Green Room’s power as an in-your-face exploitation film is never in question. Saulnier’s horror thriller may not be as layered or as complex as his last film, Blue Ruin, but it will shred the nerves of its viewers all the same.

One of the most brilliant things about Green Room is the way that Saulnier consistently incorporates the punk feel of the Ain’t Rights and their musical philosophy into just about every aspect of the film. Green Room is gritty and bold. It grabs viewers by the throat and it forces them to look on that which will undoubtedly make them squirm. The film is less interested in pleasing viewers than it is in providing them with a unique and potentially overwhelming experience. Good-taste and respectable aesthetics have no place in Green Room, but raw energy, brutal storytelling, and unsettling intensity most certainly do.

Most of Green Room takes place in a single building, and the claustrophobic nature of the film’s setting is critical to its tone and to its ability to frighten. Cinematographer Sean Porter does a remarkable job of making Darcy’s relatively small club feel like both a prison and a labyrinth. The film’s casting and production design also add a level of authenticity and realism that help to increase the scares and suspense.

The film is also bolstered by strong performances, particularly where Yelchin, Poots, and Stewart are concerned. Each of them does a good deal to unnerve viewers while also bringing some much-needed personality to the grim affair. As extreme and as violent Green Room is, most of its performances are grounded enough to keep it from ever feeling ridiculous, which is important, since as terrible as the events it depicts are, Saulnier does not allow his film to come across as implausible.

It’s not hard to regard Green Room as a horror film, but it stands apart from much of that category in that it doesn’t contain a shred of the supernatural. In fact, Saulnier doesn’t present viewers with much at all that requires them to suspend their disbelief. His tale of skinheads vs. punk rockers unfolds in a horrific, but (mostly) realistic manner, which only increases its capacity to unnerve. The monsters at the heart of Green Room aren’t abstract in the slightest. Racism, violence, jealously, greed, and poor-timing are in abundance everywhere, and Saulnier’s film gives viewers a graphic image of how destructive they can be.

As deadly serious as most of Green Room is, it is not entirely without humor. That said, any humor in the film is (understandably) incredibly black and that—along with the breakneck pace at which Green Room moves—doesn’t leave much room for heart. Those who watch Green Room will experience a number of intense feelings, including fear, repulsion, unease, and anxiety. That said, Saulnier doesn’t foster real emotional connection between audiences and his characters, and all the blood and brutality prevents the development of more tender feelings like sorrow and sympathy.

As in Blue Ruin, Saulnier uses Green Room in part to explore the ways in which violence begets violence. In both films, a single violent act spirals out of control, and the bodies pile up in turn. The two films also share an interest in the dark underbellies of certain white subcultures, and both demonstrate Saulnier’s incredible ability to craft tension as well as his deft hand with depictions of violence.

That said, where Blue Ruin presents complex characters and a layered story that viewers can chew on for days if they like, Green Room is content to keeps things a bit simpler. The film is not totally without depth and meaning, but they play an almost unheard second fiddle to its sheer nerve-rending force.

Saulnier is a daring, sure-handed director who knows how to create suspense and who isn’t afraid to punish his viewers. He’s also a more than capable writer, but Green Room’s story isn’t without flaws. Saulnier’s script isn’t weighed down with details concerning the skinheads and their precise motives. For the most part, this restraint is a good thing, as a certain lack of information helps to maintain the aura of uncertainty and danger that defines the entire film while also allowing the story to move quickly. That said, there are still moments, where the narrative grows a shade too muddy, and it contains a subplot that simply doesn’t work. The film also slacks a bit once it becomes clear that its central question is simply “Who, if anyone, will survive this?”; but the damage is not so great that viewers will lose interest.

Green Room isn’t for everyone, but it’s a well-crafted and tightly wound thriller that’s sure to leave a mark on those who see it. Shit hits the fan pretty early in this violent backwoods drama, and once it does, there is little relief to be found until its final moments. The film is gripping and it provides viewers with some of the most concentrated doses of tension they will experience in a theater all year. While its script is imperfect, Green Room still displays more intelligence, inspiration, and technical skill than more typical genre fare. Above all, Green Room wants to fuck you up, and it might even change the way people view “Beware of Dog” signs for years to come.

Until Next Time
Nearly a week passed between the day I saw Green Room and the day I finally sat down to review it. A lot of things have been keeping me from writing lately, which legit sucks. On top of that (or, “on a related note”), I’m currently trying to figure out how on earth to move to LA to attend USC in the fall. If things fall into place, I may begin pursuing a master’s in cinema and media studies in August. Until certain details are ironed out, I’ll may be too overwhelmed to post here as often as I want to.

If things don’t fall into place, forget I ever said anything about graduate school at all. Thanks in advance.

As always, feel free to add your thoughts to this post by leaving a comment below. I’d also greatly appreciate it if you followed this blog on twitter.

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