Time: 95 Minutes
Age Rating: Graphic violence, drug use and offensive language
Anton Yelchin as Pat
Alia Shawkat as Sam
Joe Cole as Reece
Callum Turner as Tiger
Imogen Poots as Amber
Patrick Stewart as Darcy Banker
Macon Blair as Gabe
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
In the Pacific Northwest, teenager Pat (Anton Yelchin) takes part of punk rock band, The Ain’t Rights, at a night and drug club. Their tour to try and get famous fails badly with hatred. Unfortunately, for them, their tour eventually turns into something very nasty when they are witnesses at a crime scene. Since the notorious club owner, Darcy Banker (Patrick Strwart), is now on the case of the incident, The Ain’t Rights start to work together to try and escape the club alive and make it back to Washington, D.C., before Darcy finds them.
Green Room was often wildly praised upon it’s release, called one of the best films of 2016. If you looked at my prior review of Green Room though, you know that I thought it was decent but wasn’t quite loving it. After watching Jeremy Saulnier’s previous movies, Murder Party and Blue Ruin, I decided to give it another shot, as there are some things I quite liked about the movie despite my disappointment with it. Maybe there was something I missed on the first viewing or something, but I loved the movie the second time around. It’s such an effective and brutal thriller, which although is rather straightforward is given such a grim and standout style and infused with so much energy and tension that it really works.
As this is a retrospective review, there are going to be spoilers for Green Room, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend checking out the movie first. Green Room isn’t a movie that requires multiple viewings to understand, it’s not Mulholland Drive or anything. At it’s core, it’s a straightforward thriller and what you see is what you get. However, watching the movie the second time around, I recognised a lot more about what was happening. For example, there’s a scene where one skinhead stabs another, and I only realised watching it a second time that it was to deal with the police when Yelchin’s character made a call about a stabbing. So I have a feeling that my rather mild reaction to the movie came from my mood at the time and so I didn’t get the full experience back then. Green Room is short at around 90 minutes, that already seems like the right length of the movie with the straightforward premise but they really utilise that time incredibly well. The film first quickly established the characters and their situation, not enough that you understand these characters know them that well, but we get to spend enough time with them that we get to know the general idea about what they’re all about. At the point around 17 minutes into the movie, the main characters discover the body, and from that point till the end of the film, Green Room maintains the tension very strongly. Until the third act, the movie is full of a bunch of failed attempts at getting out, with the tension piling on and the much more experienced people closing in. By the time it reaches the last 30 minutes, only 2 of them are left, and it was gratifying seeing the survivors finally adapting to their seemingly impossible situation, and turning the tables on the people after them. Jeremy Saulnier is familiar with having protagonists that aren’t really capable for their situation that they have to deal with. Murder Party has a mild mannered guy who willingly goes to a ‘murder party’ and gets caught by a bunch of deranged killers. Blue Ruin followed a main character who was trying to pull off a revenge despite having no experience at all at killing or violence. Green Room is following a punk band who is going up against highly trained skinheads after willingly performing in front of neo Nazis and coming across something they shouldn’t have seen. Unlike some horror movies, the mistakes that are made by the characters here feel genuine and realistic, not just forced and contrived ways for the protagonists to be held back. The decisions they make aren’t actually necessarily stupid, but really the best that they could come up with in their situation when they’re stressed out and can’t think rationally. Really the only downright stupid thing the characters do in the movie is outright perform “Nazi punks fuck off” in front of a bunch of Nazis (and performing at a Nazi bar in the first place was bad enough). There aren’t many problems with the movie that I can think of aside from the lack of depth from some characters. I guess the ending is a little abrupt, but that wasn’t a huge problem, it wasn’t like there was much else to show in the story. Macon Blair’s character is going to call the police, Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots’s characters made it out alive and the rest of the skinheads are dead. There wasn’t that much else to show.
The cast of Green Room all did great jobs in their roles. You don’t learn a ton of things about the characters outside of a little bit about Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Amber (Imogen Poots). The two actors who shine the most in the movie are Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots. The late great Anton Yelchin gave one of his best performances as the band member who gets the most screentime (and really the only survivor of the band), with his character going through a lot (including his arm pretty much being cut to ribbons). Poots also gives one of her best performances as a skinhead who is stuck in the middle of the situation when her friend Emily is killed, which the band comes across. Throughout the film, Amber is shown to be very capable and dangerous, yet still quite vulnerable in her situation, a really great balance overall. The rest of the band characters played by Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner did great as well, they don’t have much to work with, but they really sold the fear that the characters had. I remember being rather underwhelmed by Patrick Stewart’s villain after all the hype that was building up to him. He never had a big moment where he stood out or did anything really significant. However I think I was getting the wrong impression of what he was going to be in this movie. When you hear the idea of Patrick Stewart playing a Nazi skinhead gang leader, you’re immediately thinking about something completely ruthless, intimidating and scene stealing. However like the rest of the characters and the story, he and the rest of the villains all feel grounded. Stewart’s character is seemingly forced to deal with a situation, his actions aren’t driven by hate or pleasure but they’re rather calculated, he’s just calm throughout and really just blows his top a bit for like 5 seconds in like the first act briefly. He’s in command of the whole situation until the third act when he loses control and tries to do something to survive which results in his death. Another standout on the Nazi side of the characters is frequent Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair, he’s a skinhead whom at the end decides to surrender and helps the 2 remaining survivors.
It was great watching Jeremy Saulnier’s direction evolve watching his past 2 films. While Blue Ruin started him off with his distinct style and direction, with Green Room he perfected his style and direction. It’s going to be interesting to see how it changes in Hold the Dark. Like in Blue Ruin, the cinematography is stunning, but that has also improved, he’s filmed so many scenes incredibly well, especially the more thrilling scenes. The whole set design feels great, the movie just has this very grimy and unpleasant vibe which really benefited the movie immensely, since that’s really what it was going for. This film starts with tension in the first act and unlike Blue Ruin which has the tenseness defused in the second act, from the point that Pat finds the body, the atmosphere and tension is maintained throughout right till the end. Even when the film has a scene or two focussing on our protagonists having a quiet moment, or focussing on Patrick Stewart and the neo Nazis, none of the tension is deflated. All of Saulnier’s films has some brutal violence, (again, haven’t seen Hold the Dark yet) but so far this is the most violent of all his movies. The violence that is on screen is brutal and unflinching, likely to provoke a reaction from the audience. The first 30-40 minutes alone had Pat’s arm being cut up to an incredible amount, as well as a Nazi’s belly being sliced open by Amber. And that’s only counting the first 40 minutes of the movie. This is probably one of the most graphic depictions of violence I’ve seen in a movie, though it doesn’t feel overdone or anything like that, it feels appropriate for the tone of the movie.
Green Room I consider now to be a great thriller. Jeremy Saulnier’s previous movies were test runs, but with Green Room he got it all right, with some solid performances, a simple yet effective script, and Saulnier’s unflinching direction. Some of the characterisation could’ve been a little stronger and some depth could’ve been given to the characters, but on the whole, Green Room succeeds at being a brutal and effective thriller, and probably one of the standout films of 2016.