Genre: Crime, Horror, Thriller
Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart
American independent cinema is enjoying something of a golden era of late. The likes of David Lowery, David Gordon Green and Jeff Nichols have all produced some of the most interesting and diverse films in the last half decade but one of the most intriguing members of this new breed of independent cinema is Jeremy Sauliner. Sauliner’s debut film, the gritty and raw Blue Ruin, offered up a genre-bending experience that felt fresh and potent while simultaneously subverting your notions of genre convention. Second time around, the director keeps to the same formula with Green Room.
The film centres on Arlington hardcore punk band, The Aint Rights, who find themselves locked in the titular green room by a group of Neo-Nazis after stumbling across a gruesome murder. With little hope of making it out alive they are left with only one way out and it’s not pretty. What unravels is a mash up of Deliverance, Straw Dogs and Assault on Precinct 13 with some The Texas Chainsaw Massacre thrown in for good measure that flouts with horror tropes at every turn.Sauliner’s sophomore effort is a perfectly executed exercise in tension, everything from mic feedback to rabid dogs will have you biting at your fingernails, with the occasional intrusion of graphic violence thrown in just in case you weren’t uneasy enough. Arms get broken, faces get blown off and throats get chewed and Sauliner never pulls away for a second, leaving you to face the gore. However, it’s never violence just for the sake of it, the director manages to give it weight and heft, not an easy achievement given the level of violence that takes place. A less talented director could have turned it into a cheap gorefest but luckily Sauliner knows when to shock and when to make you awkwardly laugh, instilling his film with a stream of black comedy.
Yet despite the film’s intensity, it quickly becomes evident it’s limited by its bare bones story, stripping back any opportunity it could of had to offer up more. Its claustrophobic setting hamstrings the story at times, it lurches from one failed escape plan to another struggling to give the narrative a sense of direction. When the twists unfold they tend to underwhelm or feel irrelevant and as the film meanders it’s way to a conclusion it all becomes a little tiring.Patrick Stewart, whose more Walter White than Jean-Luc Picard, is brilliant as the manipulative white supremacy leader Darcy, with a subtly menacing performance that forms the dark epicentre of the film. It’s only a pity Sauliner doesn’t give him more to do, he is sadly absent from the film when it needs him the most. Everyone else plays their part well enough, Anton Yelchin is fine as bassist-turned-leader Pat, while Imogen Poots threatens to steal the show as skinhead Amber, who manages to add humanity and likeability to a group of otherwise annoying cannon-fodder. Yet, the film never allows you to connect with the punk rockers we are meant to be rooting for which makes it difficult for us to care when they start turning into dog food. Darcy’s neo-Nazi minions are never built up quick enough, before they get cut down anyway, to add anything to the story which becomes a real problem as the third act attempts to add something to the story that feels pointlessly throwaway.
Sauliner’s second feature is sadly not as tight and well orchestrated as it could be, a bit more time spent on the characters would have added an emotional connection that the film greatly lacks and it never plays it’s trump card, Stewart, as much as it should, but it’s Sauliner’s talent for creating tension that makes the film worth it. Green Room won’t be as memorable as it’s predecessor but it looks set to become a cult classic.