Green Room, 2015.
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier.
Starring Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Macon Blair and Alia Shawkat.
A down-on-their-luck punk band is travelling round the mid-West on a zero budget when they land a gig at a roadhouse. What they’re not told is that it’s the meeting place for a gang of white supremacist skinheads. With their set over, the group is about to leave when they come across a scene of bloody violence and they’re not allowed to leave. So begins a brutal game of cat and mouse, where the odds are stacked against the youngsters getting out alive.
Has Jeremy Saulnier got a colour thing going on? First it’s Blue Ruin (2013), now it’s Green Room. He says not. But at least this time he’s given his film a title where the meaning is crystal clear: it’s not just the room where performers hang out before and after they’ve been on stage, it’s also where large chunks of the action take place.
But if he does have a trademark colour, it’s red. Blood red. There’s been stories this week of people being physically sick while watching the film, and there are a couple of especially gory moments, the death of one the thugs being one. It actually doesn’t need to be so explicit: some equally gruesome later scenes are shot in subdued lighting with sound to bring the full horror to life. But there’s another, involving one of the band members, which actually benefits from showing all the grim details. Either way, hats off to the make-up and prosthetics team for making it look so realistic. And duct tape used for medical purposes? Who’d have thought it ….
It’s a film that starts off by lulling you into a false sense of security – assuming, of course, all the pre-publicity has passed you by. You just drift along with the band, enjoying their minor misadventures. If you do have an idea of what’s coming, you’re just waiting for it to turn all Grand Guignol. This time round, Saulnier has produced something tighter and sharper than Blue Ruin. The confined space of the room itself helps, but the suspense is even better to the point of being unbearable. The scenes where the band is locked in the room, talking through the door to Patrick Stewart on the other side, are skin-pricklingly good. To them, he sounds plausible, reasonable even, but we know he’s the leader of the skinheads and we’ve seen the steely look in his eyes. Stewart’s a perfect bit of casting, chillingly getting everybody to follow his orders, but never afraid to do the deed himself if he has to. And if Saulnier milks his first appearance on the screen just a touch, who can blame him?
There’s also a rich seam of black humour running through the movie, with most of the one liners coming from Imogen Poots. With her face almost hidden by the whispy feather hairstyle of female skinheads, she’s not a member of the band, but she’s in the same boat as them so they join forces. And she turns out to be the most resourceful of the lot, a latter day Ripley but without the cat. There are dogs in the film, by the way, but they’re trained to be less than benign.
Blue Ruin wasn’t a bad film, but Green Room is even better. Saulnier is maturing rapidly as a director, giving us something that cleverly balances thrills with horror and dialogue with action. He’s been quoted as saying that, as in his previous film, he’s interested in the inept protagonist, although who he sees as fitting that description here isn’t wholly clear. Certainly, Stewart and his thugs have everything at their disposal to rid themselves of a group of pesky kids. Including a pack of Scoobies who, unusually, are on the other side.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★