Jeremy Saulnier’s latest film comes with high expectations following Blue Ruin, a film that helped redefine the revenge thriller. The Green Room may not redefine anything but it is a tense, brutal tale of crime and survival and one of the year’s best films.
The plot is basic and simple, a punk rock band, the Ain’t Rights travels out to show only to find it’s been canceled while they’re en route. The promoter hooks them up with a gig at a remote club, the only catch being it’s a Nazi skinhead club. Desperate for money after the wasted trip they take it.
Things actually go well, despite opening the set with a cover of The Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”. However as they go to leave one of the band members goes back to the title location to retrieve a cell phone and sees the aftermath of a murder. Now they’re witnesses and need to be eliminated, this sets off a vicious battle for survival.
I saw The Green Room as part of the 2015 Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival and it easily won over the audience despite following A Hard Day which took one of the audience awards. It starts off strong and funny as we meet the band sleeping it off in a van crashed in a cornfield. Then once the murder occurs tension takes over. It does drag a bit during the standoff between the two sides, but once the band launches it’s first escape attempt it picks up and doesn’t let off until the end. And with it’s habits of not following the usual pattern of who lives and dies it becomes an exercise in shock and suspense.
The violence in the film is brutal and realistically depicted, none of the sanitized stuff you see in many thrillers. There’s disembowelment by razor knife, people are chewed up by attack dogs and guns, a machete and blunt objects all come into play before the film’s end. This is not a film for the weak of stomach or faint of heart.
A large part of the film’s success is due to the cast. Sauliner has assembled a good cast of indie regulars here, but most are familiar from comedies and romances not this kind of dark material. That kind of casting helps keep things from becoming predictable as nobody is playing their “usual” role. Of course, the big casting draw is Patrick Stewart as Darcy, the skinhead’s leader. A cold, calculating villain, he doesn’t care what has to be done or who has to die in order to preserve his empire. Stewart makes a great bad guy and should take roles like this more often.
The script, also by Saulnier, has some very dark humor that takes just enough edge off to stop the film turning into a Saw or Hostel type exercise in torture porn but thankfuly never threatens to turn things into a comedy either.
Highly recommended for anyone who likes a thriller and has a strong stomach.