This review was previously published in The National.
ALTHOUGH he made the little-seen comedy horror Murder Party almost 10 years ago, it was 2013’s quietly menacing revenge thriller Blue Ruin that marked writer-director Jeremy Saulnier out as one to watch. Now he’s back to truly prove himself as one of the most exciting young filmmaking talents around with a taut, shocking and intense tale of punk rock, skinheads and explosive violence.
We kick things off with a punk band – played by the likes of Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Alia Shawkat – who are on their way to a gig at a remote club in America’s heavily wooded Pacific Northwest. Once they arrive, they soon discover the audience is made up of violent Nazi skinheads. After performing and waiting backstage in a small room, the band witnesses a violent murder and are then held at the mercy of the skinheads who are determined to get rid of all the evidence.
It’s a tightly wound, minimal, almost old-fashioned premise pulled off with a slick, confident panache by Saulnier. Although it’s less restrained than his previous film, that’s definitely not a bad thing as there’s an admirable boldness in the way he approaches this predicament, never pulling his punches on the realities of the situation, not least the often jaw-dropping moments of bloody violence.
But it also never pushes things into gratuitous territory as the violence is borne more out of the consequences of necessary survival actions and distinct lapses in judgement on the part of the characters rather than being any sort of portrait of sadism. Far from relying solely on a chill-to-the-bone atmosphere and shock value violence to get by, there are some great little performances from a diverse cast that help lift these characters out of the one note.
Poots and Yelchin in particular embody these caught-in-the-headlights punk rockers very well, bringing a believable balance of fear of their unfortunate dilemma and a plucky – if naïve – confidence in their survival skills once the proverbial really hits the blood-soaked fan. The secret weapon of the film, however, is Patrick Stewart as the deliciously ruthless head of the skinhead gang, one of the most surprising and effective pieces of casting in recent memory.
His restrained dominance over his subordinates and staunch adherence to the warped beliefs of his organization – which is like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre family with a dress code and a cause – is as quietly menacing as it is freakishly compelling. He’s a scarily believable monster and a fascinating adversary to our so-called heroes.
Suspenseful, audacious, visceral and more than a little bit unnerving, Green Room is a film that grabs you by the throat and pulls you down, kicking and screaming into a spiral of transfixing real world horror.