Filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier broke onto the scene a few years back with the decidedly different indie crime-thriller Blue Ruin. With his second film Green Room, Saulnier steps up his game for a thriller that could very well break him through to mainstream audiences.
The film follows the punk band The Ain’t Rights, who are at the tail end of a financially disastrous tour that forces them to drain gas from others’ vehicles to keep their van going. A trip to San Francisco is almost the band’s death knell when the local promoter books them in a Mexican restaurant to make-up for another gig that fell through. He feels so bad about that error that he gets them a gig at a punk club in the middle of nowhere.
Being that the place is filled with skinheads, maybe it isn’t the best idea for the band to cover the Dead Kennedys’ derogatory “Nazi Punks,” a direct criticism of the club’s clientele. But things get worse when bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) walks in on a girl being murdered, and the group gets trapped in the club’s dingy “green room” (hence the title) where they’re unsure if they’ll be allowed to leave after knowing about the murder.
Once the club’s owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart) hears about the situation, he has the club surrounded by members of his personal militia, heavily armed with guns and blades, as well as killer pit bulls that attack and brutalize their victims in the grisliest way possible. A friend of the deceased, played by an unrecognizable Imogen Poots in her punky hair and outfit, finds herself in the same situation as the outsiders, so she tries to help them escape.
Green Room isn’t a horror film in the traditional sense of the word, but it does play upon the familiar backwoods terror of kids being hunted by killer hillbillies, only Saulnier gives it a unique spin since their attackers aren’t mindless killers, but rather a ruthless gang led by a shrewd leader. Saulnier manages to build the intensity to a point where you’re not sure whether anyone in the band will survive the situation, but it isn’t a movie for the faint of heart as the violence is brutal and horrific; Saulnier is going for absolute realism rather than the over-the-top gore of a Tarantino, and it is unforgiving.
The filmmaker’s solid screenplay makes it seem like he’s intimately familiar not only with live music but also the inner workings of bands, but his greatest genius lies in the brilliant casting of every role, no matter how big or small.
Possibly one of the biggest surprises may be how well the often-shaky Yelchin works as the band’s bass player, especially when paired with Poots and the band’s only female member, played by Alia Shawkat. More than that, however, Patrick Stewart as the club owner is incredibly menacing, merely by the use of his words and the steady calm he keeps even as he’s ordering people to be murdered. It’s also brilliant for Saulnier to cast his Blue Ruin star Macon Blair in a completely different role as the club’s manager, who is able to keep things calm even as things start to get out of hand.
It’s rare to have a movie with such a simple plot where you think you know where things are going, yet it still manages to throw plenty of twists your way. Green Room is an adrenaline-driven nail-biter of a second feature from Saulnier, a filmmaker whose fantastic spin on genre filmmaking cannot be ignored for long.
Green Room will open in theaters on April 29.