The experience of watching Green Room is like seeing a punk band live: full force, confrontational and adrenaline fuelled. Following up his mainstream breakthrough Blue Ruin, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier delivers another strong genre blending slice of independent cinema.
The four members of punk rock group Ain’t Rights are touring small venues around the US. When a gig gets cancelled at the last minute, they agree to one last set at a Neo-Nazi bar in the middle of nowhere. When bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) stumbles across a murder, it kicks off a brutal fight for survival pitting the band plus Neo-Nazi groupie Amber (Imogen Poots) against the white supremacists’ leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) and his thuggish underlings.
Much like the band’s gig, the film takes time to truly take off. An arresting opening image of the group’s van waylaid in a field gives way to a slight but entertaining indie comedy/drama examining the travails of a fairly pretentious and unsuccessful group of punk rockers. It is still an engaging watch, however, effectively utilising the old horror trope of switching genres as the chaos reigns. It is merely a necessary prologue for what’s to come.
And what comes next is an electrifying, tense and absolutely brutal thriller. One of Blue Ruin’s great strengths was how it played with genre conventions and audience expectations within the revenge thriller, showing how explosions of violence quickly spiral out of control and lead to uncontrollable consequences. Saulnier brings that same signature to Green Room, turning a premise that sounds like B-Movie wish fulfilment- Rockers vs Nazis!- into something much more intelligent and grounded in reality. Building the action out of character and placing the the audience right alongside the Ain’t Rights, Saulnier amplifies their terrifying situation. These aren’t Statham alike bruisers, but kids with no experience of handling weaponry or killing, and there’s a desperation to how the fights play out. Bullets miss their targets, brawls are protracted, messy affairs, plans of attack don’t go smoothly for either side and main players are offed unceremoniously.
And there is a lot of offing (and offal) on display. The violence is unflinchingly, stomach churningly realistic. Light fixtures, box cutters and fire extinguishers are among the band’s makeshift survival tools, and the impact they have on their targets is shocking. Blood flows freely, flesh is torn apart. This is not what the BBFC would term “dwelling on the pain and injury,” preventing the bloodletting from becoming unpalatable, but kudos to the special effects and make up departments for crafting such horrifically convincing wounds. A thick vein of black humour running throughout offers moments of levity, from some post-slaughter housekeeping to Pat’s failed motivational speech, with Saulnier wisely relieving the tension before ratcheting it up again.
The able cast are more than up to the material. Yelchin provides a calm(ish) centre amid the mayhem, Joe Cole and Callum Turner channel the punk spirit as the band’s drummer and lead singer respectively and Poots, engaging as ever, may have the funniest final line this year. In the right wing corner, Blue Ruin’s protagonist Macon Blair makes a welcome appearance as the put upon underling Gabe and Sir Patrick Stewart is typically brilliant in an atypical and rare villainous role. Darcy’s motivations to protect his business and way of life are understandable, but his ideology and lack of compunction in killing make for a chilling foe.
Many compared the mixture of horror, thrills and laughs to the Coen Brothers when Blue Ruin arrived on the scene and the onslaught by the Neo-Nazis also calls to mind John Carpenter’s earlier work. However, like the best writer-directors Saulnier manages to channel any influences and make a distinct, individual work that continues to forge his own path.
Green Room screens at Flatpack Friday April 22nd, 2016 (details here) and is on general release in the UK from 13th May