It’s not often that I succumb to a movie’s hype before walking into a screening, but Green Room is a glorious exception. Jeremy Saulnier earned my respect by creating Murder Party and Blue Ruin, two artfully breathtaking indie darlings, so Green Room shot up my must-watch list based on Saulnier’s name recognition alone. Then he announced a cast including Patrick Stewart, Macon Blair, Anton Yelchin, and Imogen Poots, which caused my simmering excitement to boil over. But the hype train continued to roll strong, as stellar, overwhelmingly positive reviews out of TIFF were the icing on Saulnier’s punk-rock cake. Anticipation had climaxed, and I couldn’t help but walk into my Fantastic Fest screening of Green Room expecting a powerful genre experience that could challenge the bleak humanity of Blue Ruin.
Green Room delivered all of that, and then some.
Saulnier’s nightmare beings with a struggling punk band called the Ain’t Rights, who get stood-up for a gig when the promoter loses his venue rights. As an act of kindness, the promoter pulls some strings and gets the band a gig with some “right-wing” extremists who end up being full-blown Nazis. Pat (Anton Yelchin) thinks it’d be funny to open the show with a cover of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” which sparks some backlash, but the show ends without incident. Upon leaving, Sam (Alia Shawkat) forgets her phone in the green room, so Pat pops in quickly to get it – interrupting a murder scene. The Ain’t Rights then find themselves being held against their will, until the club’s owner, Darcy (Patrick Stewart), gives the order to leave no witnesses. Then all Hell breaks loose.
The beauty in Sauliner’s filmmaking is that nothing is ever overcomplicated. Murder Party is exactly as advertised (a party where one guest is invited to be murdered), and Blue Ruin is the most simplistic of revenge arcs. Intentions are never muddied, and actions are rather primal.
Green Room follows in those grounded footsteps by presenting a bunch of boot-stomping badasses with an unfortunate situation, and violence is their only response. Ain’t Rights saw too much, and they have to die. Plain and simple. Sauliner implements only one small twist (if you’re not paying attention), but even in doing so, he quickly assures us that the scenario is still completely f*cked by ripping hope away as quickly as it’s presented. There’s no wasted time as far as Saulnier’s filmmaking is concerned – Green Room plugs in and never stops jamming on the same gut-wrenching despair felt by every character.
Well, actually, the REAL beauty in Green Room is how we feel every death, and live the same absolute savagery that Ain’t Rights experiences. Saulnier is so astutely in-touch with our basest emotions, and he finds a way (once again) to never glorify violence. Each death makes our stomachs churn a bit, only because we’re so tragically invested in these punk wannabes who are trapped like doomed rats.
Guts are sliced opened, hands are sawn half-off, dogs shred throats, and heads are absolutely eviscerated – never jovially, or extravagantly. Sauliner’s brand of violence is dirty, grimy, and representative of the immediate stoppage of life, as death truly is. This sounds sadistic in a way, but it works to heighten the stakes of Green Room, ensuring a white-knuckled, breath-stealing struggle that pummels you without remorse. Each audible gasp is a testament to the dreadful atmosphere Sauliner creates, as the filmmaker controls our emotions like Darcy controls the club’s massacre.
Saulnier’s ensemble cast comes together like the most in-tune rock band, shaped by the abandonment of hope that turns most characters into survivalist heathens. The first moment that Pat stares over a lifeless corpse at Werm’s (Brent Werzner) dead eyes, it’s like time stops momentarily for everyone to envision the bloodshed that’s about to take place. Yelchin’s blended reaction of fear and preservation in this glimpse opens the door to Patrick Stewart’s fearless leader, who preys on small lapses of judgement that tease characters with mere seconds of salvation. Green Room is war, and Stewart’s mentality is that of a white-supremacist General Patton who cares not about the livelihood of a few kids, and their deaths become business as usual for a movement built on gun-loving, race-hating bigotry. Pat tries to inspire hope in his fellow bandmates, and their new friend Sam (Imogen Poots), but there’s none to be found – only a sense of dying on your own terms.
Green Room is one of those rare films that never crumbles under the mountain of praise immediately established by word-of-mouth accounts, confidently confirming that the hype is too f&cking real. Saulnier’s renegade filmmaking style proves why he’s a director that demands attention, and why Green Room is a movie that demands to be seen. His world can turn to shit at the drop of a dime, which tears at our soul with each jarring jolt of brutal, blood-drenched tension. This is artfully crafted genre insanity of the highest order, as deaths are meant to advance a pulse-pounding survival story, not provide momentary distractions in the form of lavish, outlandish expirations.
Saulnier’s filmmaking is as punk-rock as it gets, but unlike music, it lingers far after the stage lights have dimmed to black.
Green Room is a punishing masterpiece built on aggression, tension, and grimy punk-rock filmmaking, with a heavy emphasis on artistry and emotion.