Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart and Alia Shawkat
Running Time: 95 minutes
Release Date: May 13th
Three films in and Jeremy Saulnier is already a master of horror, yet hasn’t worked exclusively in the genre. The horror he works with is that which exists within the world we all recognise. He takes very real and occasionally milquetoast people and thrusts them into hyperreal and violent situations. His breakout, Blue Ruin, played perfectly with the conventions of a revenge movie, but subverted it by opening with a messy and bumbling retribution, and then seeing what came next.
Green Room uses this approach too, having all the structure of a siege movie but trading out the usual gruff gang of bandits or criminals with a nebbish DC punk bank. Touring the West Coast, The Ain’t Rights siphon their way from town to town, playing shitty diners and bars to crowds that are countable on your two hands. After a particularly bad gig, a promoter hooks them up with a guaranteed paid show outside Portland; the only problem is that it’s staged in a neo-Nazi skinhead bar located in dense woods. Unfazed, they blast through a set, goading the crowd with a cover of Dead Kennedys’ ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ before wisely getting the hell out of boot-and-braces dodge. Stumbling upon an incident backstage then makes it abundantly clear that they’re not going anywhere.
Saulnier throws everything at The Ain’t Rights; skinheads with guns, small skinheads with machetes, skinheads with pit bulls, skinheads in a band called Cowcatcher and skinheads who aren’t actual skinheads because they’re played by Patrick Stewart and he’s naturally bald. As Darcy, Stewart is a malevolent conductor, using his calm and reassuring timbre as a force for orchestrating visceral and grotesque carnage. Under Saulnier’s crisp and erudite direction, that mayhem comes quickly and relentlessly, spearheaded by a glut of mic stand bludgeonings, arm mutilation and blood by the vat full.
Green Room‘s greatest trick is its constant switching of who you might think is the lead. No sooner do people display abilities or traits that might come in handy when in a fight to the death against a swastika tattooed mob — like, say, being adept at mixed martial arts or serviceable with a firearm — are they dispatched by boxcutter or shivs. Its stars all melt into their roles, to the point where you’ll only realise who was in it at the end credits — Anton Yelchin is so good you forget it’s Anton Yelchin.
Saulnier spent years in a hardcore band called No Turn On Fred and he uses his experiences of touring and van life to make The Ain’t Rights more amicable, which in itself helps to elevate the material from its grindhouse roots into something much more special. Brash, loud and more brutal than a circle pit with a steam roller, no movie this year will exhilarate and nauseate quite like Green Room.