Jeremy Saulnier is a cinematic madman. His 2007 debut Murder Party announced a new, distinctive voice on the indie movie scene, while his follow up, 2013’s blistering revenge thriller Blue Ruin demonstrated that a tremendous new talent had taken a huge leap forward. And now, with his latest film, the pulverizing horror-thriller Green Room, he’s firmly staked his claim as one of the most exciting cinematic voices to hit the movie landscape in years. He’s not making films that are going to appeal to the old farts in the Academy, but rather, he’s embraced the idea of the unpretentious thriller, stripping his genre based elements to their bare essentials, and cruising through nihilistic narratives that only potentially offer catharsis or safe haven by the end. But, like the best filmmakers, be ready to have your expectations constantly subverted, as Saulnier clearly revels in the art of the surprise.
I don’t know anything about the punk rock scene in Seattle, but this movie feels like it knows this world intrinsically, so I believed every single moment in this compact bit of storytelling. Saulnier makes some subtle generational jabs by writing the band members the way he does, and one of the things that made this movie as effective as it is was that at no point did I feel that this couldn’t happen. As in Blue Ruin, there’s an escalating sense of tension and violence that permeates the entire film, and if I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the narrative in Green Room as I was in his previous picture, it takes nothing away from the continued formal precision and careful, air-tight plotting that almost begs to be scrutinized. There’s a nice twist that makes sense towards the start of the third act, and rather than the moment feeling contrived in order to advance the plot, it felt organic and logical.
This is a grubby, grimy movie, with terrific production design by Ryan Warren Smith, and overall, it’s the sort of effort that Quentin Tarantino or Wayne Kramer would go nuts for (QT apparently has!), involving a punk rock band playing at the A-1 wrong venue, a hell-house run by skinheads. The band members inadvertently witness the aftermath to a murder, and before you know it, they’ve all been marked for death, with the head neo-Nazi played by Patrick Stewart in a bone-chilling performance that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen from this most excellent actor. Casting Stewart in this role was a stroke of genius in and of itself, but the way that Saulnier continually builds dread all around his hapless characters helps to raise the stakes all throughout, with Stewart taking on an almost mythic quality. And then there’s the attack dogs – just you wait! Anton Yelchin continues on his terrific streak of quality projects with unique filmmakers, and for once, it was a pleasure to see a character in one of these movies that gets stabbed, and then actually feels the pain. How novel!
The lovely Imogen Poots strips away her cutie-pie looks and shreds her image with a gross hair style and an eerie sense of near-joy during some of the more nasty moments of bloodshed, with Saulnier delivering a sly feminist undercurrent to a portion of the film. Macon Blair reteams with the filmmaker after their startling collaboration on Blue Ruin, here delivering a totally different and equally impressive performance. The always awesome Mark Webber also gets some choice scenes; there’s something about this actor’s face that suggests inherent engagement. Cinematographer Sean Porter bathes the film in dark greens and inky blacks, sometimes looking for that shade of brown that Fincher has been searching for of late, stressing strict camera placement and expert attention to visual space, so that each action scene stings with the necessary blunt force that the story demands. Gory, unrelenting, and totally nasty in every sense of the word, Green Room is yet another aesthetically exciting and formally bracing piece of work from Saulnier, who along with Ben Wheatley, has cemented himself as one of my new favorite cinematic voices.