2016 – USA
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Macon Blair, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Eric Edelstein
Words: N. Scatcherd
Following the quietly brilliant ‘bumbling revenge thriller’ Blue Ruin from 2013, Jeremy Saulnier returns with another colour-coded tale of escalating violence. Though Green Room never feels quite as focused or smart as the previous film, it’s a more visceral and intense experience, eliciting gasps and squirming in all the right places.
The set-up has a direct, B-movie simplicity: young punk band The Ain’t Rights play a gig at a kind of skinhead commune for petrol money; one of them witnesses the aftermath of a murder; they become trapped in the titular green room with a baying mob of skinheads on the other side of the door. Saulnier is understated but confident when it comes to visual flourishes, using grimy cinematography (most of the film feels appropriately bathed in various sickly shades of its title colour), giving it an atmosphere made all the more gripping by the naturalistic performances. Saulnier is very good at putting you right in the room with the band (Yelchin, Shawkat, Cole and Turner, all on fine form), and each decision they make feels fraught with tension as they react to their situation with varying degrees of panic and terror. Unfortunately, Patrick Stewart’s turn as skinhead patriarch Darcy feels a little threadbare; the man’s a great actor and Stewart plays him with an unnerving methodical calm, but he doesn’t get much to do aside from glower and give orders. In fact, it’s Macon Blair as a vaguely uneasy, self-conscious underling who gives perhaps the film’s best, most nuanced performance.
The bursts of violence are genuinely shocking, feeling queasily real and intense; limbs are hacked, dogs chew throats, bellies are split open, and it’s all shot with the kind of impact that real-world violence has, and films all too often sensationalise or eschew entirely. Most of the bloodletting is offhand, clumsy and almost incidental, and as the band’s situation becomes more and more dire, there’s a legitimate sense of danger and unpredictability. The film’s final twenty minutes start to stretch credulity a little – no spoilers – but overall, Green Room is the kind of breathless white-knuckle thriller that has both brains and guts (quite literally in a few scenes).