“Green Room” is the hotly anticipated follow-up to director Jeremy Saulnier’s 2014 indie thriller hit “Blue Ruin.” And judging by the thunderous applause it received after playing Fantastic Fest on September 25, 2015, it’s clear the filmmaker has another film destined for cult classic status.
The film centers on The Ain’t Rights, a struggling idealistic punk rock band featuring bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin), drummer Reece (Joe Cole), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat) and frontman Tiger (Callum Turner). After a high profile gig falls through, the group are offered a slot at an rural Oregon punk club.
But it’s a tense scene, as the venue is owned by a white supremacist leader (Patrick Stewart) who caters to an violent Nazi Skinhead clientele. The group, feeling cocky and defensive against their lowbrow audience, bait them with a cover of Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks F— Off” before packing up their gear and head out.
But when Pat goes back to the green room to grab his cell phone, they discover a murdered young girl, and what was just an unpleasant gig turns into a nightmare for survival. While they barricade the room against Stewart and his goons, its clear he’ll stop at nothing to keep the murder a secret: even if they have to kill the witnesses in the process.
The amount of tension Saulnier is able to generate is staggering: using a very simple siege set-up, he raises the visceral stakes to white-knuckle levels, and uses practical gore effects to truly unsettling effect. But he also knows when to punctuate with moments of humor to allow periodic deflation of tension-right before cranking it back up all over again.
Yelchin excels as the group’s spiritual leader, while Imogene Poots makes a welcome addition as the friend of the slain victim who wants revenge as well as survival. Stewart plays well against type as a cold, murderous zealot, while “Blue Ruin” lead Macon Blair has a fine turn as a skinhead more nuanced and clever than his groupthink mindset would allow you to believe.
There have been other reviews noting that “Green Room” lacks the emotional potency of “Blue Ruin”, as well as that film’s thoughtful meditation on the emotional ramifications of violence. But these are two very different films, as “Green Room” is clearly going for action/suspense/horror genre thrills, and any lack of deeply rich character details are offset by the its gut-churning levels of unease and terror.
Saulnier has proven he is one of the best indie filmmakers in the game, and “Green Room” will only add and expand his legacy. It’s an unforgettable, nerve-jangling adrenaline ride.