Green Room October 27, 2016
Thrillers thrill more when the thrilling situation at hand doesn’t ring with cinematic predictability but with individualistic, inescapable desperation. Take Jeremy Saulnier’s excellent Green Room as your archetypal example of the latter. A reality based nightmare set in the Pacific Northwest, it watches as a failing punk band’s depressing, self-made tour collapses onto itself following the group’s accidentally headlining a show at a secluded venue that hosts the area’s most fervent neo-Nazis. After inadvertently witnessing the murder of a young woman who had her sights set on leaving the toxic outlet, they’re effectively trapped by the bloodthirsty band of bigots, death hungrily waiting behind every window, every door.
This premise, though almost deceptively simple, is the stuff the finest of thrillers are made of. Because the suspense heavy genre only yearns to get some sort of fearful rise out of its audience, dependably efficacious are roller coasters of the silver screen that go for simplicity rather than twisty convolution. Sure labyrinthine pulse-pounders of the Sleuth (1972) category are fun, nasty rides. But I’m more partial to economic, undemanding adrenaline teasers — from 1967’s Wait Until Dark to even this year’s The Shallows, chillers wherein you’re taken on a real-time journey of terror stand unmatched and underrated.
Green Room broadens the girth of the facile thrill, utilizing its point A to point B straightforwardness as a way to leave ample room for emotional nuance, cathartic kill-offs, and stylistic exuberance. So potent are Saulnier’s methods of exciting that the film feels distinctly first-person; we vicariously live through the crowd of perceived-to-be good guys’ trying to survive.
Featured are riveting characters, to be sure. The central gaggle of anti-heroes, part of a fictional rock band (made up by Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, Joe Cole, and the late Anton Yelchin), preach all things hardcore for their so-called living but find themselves in hardcore circumstances and revert back to the scared young things they really are. Patrick Stewart, as the leader of the antagonistic skinheads, is a surprise tour-de-force; the undervalued Imogen Poots, as a friend of the murder victim who longs to leave behind her neo-Nazi upbringing, is a terrific loose cannon. Watching this disparate variety of individuals push each other’s buttons is an explosive treat, and never for a moment does Saulnier lose sight of the tension that loudly resides between his villains and his protagonists.
The film stands as a major breakthrough for the writer/director, who caught the attention of a wide assortment of critics with his 2014 revenge tale Blue Ruin. As one of the few who found the film to be ponderous, with leading man Macon Blair (who plays a supporting role in Green Room) too uninteresting to headline a movie of such tightly wound tension, Green Room confirms him as a fascinating auteur with a knack for constructing unprecedented unease.
Resulting is one of the best horror movies of the year, to be valued and taken seriously. Hard it’ll be to find a genre picture that gets the job done as well as this film does — it has the storyline to make for a cheap thrill, after all, but goes for the throat and the gut and proves itself to be as unforgettable as the tonally similar You’re Next. Saulnier’s one to watch; Green Room is a diamond in the bloody rough. A-