Jeremy Saulnier is fastly becoming one of my favourite film-makers working today. His 2013 thriller, Blue Ruin – a film that really got the writer and director noticed, and which subsequently made my top ten list of that year – was a darkly comic, unbearably tragic and incredibly intense piece of work.
The same can be said for his latest effort, Green Room; a film which, despite sharing some of the DNA as the director’s previous work, is Saulnier’s most ambitious, most disturbing and most thrilling offering to date.
The film’s concept is genuinely terrifying: a band by the name of “The Ain’t Rights” land a gig on the outskirts of Portland, at a bar full of neo-nazi skinheads with a penchant for violence. When one of the band members accidentally walks in on a murder, the group find themselves trapped in the bar’s green room whilst a group of machete-wielding ‘red laces’ – led by a spine-chilling Sir Patrick Stewart, playing a role quite unlike anything he has done before – begin to close in around them.
Shotguns, Pit Bulls and utility knives are amongst the array of weapons used in the bloodied battle between the nazis and punks. No punches are pulled when it comes to the ultraviolence. As things begin to escalate so quickly, Saulnier perfectly captures the helpless horror of the situation through the film’s brutal and realistic killings. The screen is often filled with plenty of blood, sinew and flesh – all the general gore – which would be enough to make even the most hardened horror fan want to turn away. However, there’s still no escaping the violence due to its squelchy sound design that leaves nothing to the imagination.
The fact that the film depicts violence in such a real way is a great part of its genius. The stakes feel considerably higher due to the way in which the heroes and villains are dispatched, even more so due to the fact that there’s a real sense that any character could die at any moment. Saulnier does a fantastic job of making you feel like you’re right in the middle of it all, so much so that you’ll want to breath a big sigh of relief when you come out through the other side.
Forget heart-pounding tension; Green Room is so edge of your seat tense that I felt like my heart was going to burst through my chest. It is an uncomfortably visceral and exhilarating watch, yet there’s still plenty of fun to be had with it. For one, the cast are all fantastic, especially the aforementioned Stewart and the main protagonists, Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots. A special shout-out should be given to Blue Ruin’s Macon Blair, who plays another pathetic and conflicted character in the form of Gabe (also known as ‘worm’).
There’s some great comedic moments as well, even if they are as black as the soul of Patrick Stewart’s character. One particular highlight is a running gag that begins with the band being asked who their desert island artist would be, a gag that runs throughout the film and has one hell of a punchline come the finale.
It’s a strange little movie. On the one hand, Jeremy Saulnier has crafted a solid thriller/horror that entertains and thrills in equal measures, yet there’s a great amount of artistry involved in bringing this to the big screen. Sean Porter’s stunning cinematography is the perfect example of this. Much like the cinematography of Blue Ruin – for which Saulnier himself was responsible – Green Room has a palette that ties in perfectly with the film’s title and concept.
What sounds like a gimmick is far from it, though, and the way in which Porter manages to draw out the colour green from all manner of environments – whether it’s an ariel shot of an expansive forest, or simply the lighting from the bar – gives the film a unique and instantly recognisable visual stamp.
One of the film’s greatest achievements, however, comes from a moment involving one of the frightening Pit Bulls that are set loose on the band. One of the dogs escapes and runs off into the wild, and for a long time Saulnier keeps re-visiting the dog as it walks through the forest. There’s a strong sensation of dread as the Pit Bull edges closer and closer to our heroes, but when it finally arrives at the scene of so much death and destruction, it is content in resting its head on its owner’s corpse.
The message from this surprising moment is simple: it is man who is the most viscous and cruel creature of all. The fact that there’s this subtext to be found amongst the thrills, proves Saulnier to be an interesting and incredible talent. Green Room is easily one of the best and most exciting films of 2016 so far, but just as exciting is the director himself and the promise of his future in film.
Green Room is released in UK cinemas on May 13th.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com