Sundance Review: Jeremy Saulnier’s Ruthless “Green Room” Pits Punk Band Against White Supremacists

Green Room Review

By now, everyone should be paying close attention to Jeremy Saulnier. With two critically acclaimed features under his belt, the director has made some serious noise in the festival market with his latest film, Green Room. But this isn’t his first time making waves. In 2007 his horror-comedy feature, Murder Party (think The Breakfast Club with murder weapons), was given the Audience Award for Best Feature at the Slamdance Film Festival, and in 2013, Saulnier premiered his crowdfunded project Blue Ruin at Cannes Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize (Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique). The gruesome revenge film was nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at the 2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards and landed on several year-end lists by major publications.

If you’ve watched either of his previously released films, you should have taken note of Saulnier’s distinct voice. His stories are typically gritty, stripped-down, and wholly unforgiving. And his latest is no exception. Green Room first premiered in 2015 at Cannes. Afterwards it was quickly picked up by the increasingly impressive A24 Films (Ex Machina, The Witch, Amy, Room) and landed a spot at TIFF in September 2015. Sundance 2016 just happened to be the film’s last run and I was fortunate enough to get an early look before its theatrical release in April.

Written and directed by Saulnier, Green Room is intimately explosive. The story follows a proud under-the-radar punk band (led by Anton Yelchin) struggling to get by while on tour. When their latest stop goes awry, they hope to recoup their losses at a seedy backwoods establishment frequented by neo-Nazis. Despite their initial reservations against the gig, things go reasonably well, aside from a few patrons hurling expletives and beer bottles while the band brazenly performed a cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” Punk bands, am I right?

The situation goes way left when the band returns to their green room and spots a dead body surrounded by a bunch of stone-cold white supremacists. They’re quickly forced into the room and held captive while the Nazi thugs determine the best course of action. Enter Patrick fucking Stewart, the group’s cold and calculating leader. The band barricade themselves in the room, while Stewart and his henchman do their best to convince them that everything’s swell. Tensions rise between the groups and what ensues is a violently ruthless battle between a young band and band of merciless killers.

Green Room is punishing, it’s not easy to watch, and it’s remarkably horror in its rawest form. Saulnier took inspiration during time spent in the DC punk scene in the ’90s, and while he admits no affiliation with such recklessness, he’s clearly seen some shit. There’s a sense of dread from the beginning, similar to the feeling you get when watching a ’70s slasher film. But there are no masks, no deranged inbred family, and certainly no nightmare-dwelling maniac to haunt us in our dreams. Instead, Saulnier gives us very real characters with very real motives. It’s not hard to imagine a grimy bar inhabited by folks such as Stewart and his men.

For all of its complexities, Saulnier handles his story well. Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat shine in their efforts to survive against Nazi madness. Stewart takes an impressive turn as Darcy, an initially benevolent bar owner who quickly turns cold when the situation gets too deep. Green Room falters, albeit briefly, when the attention is focused on Darcy’s henchmen, who are seemingly far less intelligent than their leader and racked with too many imperfections. Bloody, outrageous, and punishing, Green Room is realistically horrifying. For most of the film’s duration, Saulnier keeps his story confined within a bare-boned bar, underlying a sense of isolation and hopelessness. There are plenty of opportunities for it to slow down or for the struggle to become stale, but he commands such intensity that it’s nearly impossible to look away, while at the same time compelling audiences to wish that they could.

Green Room will get a limited release April 1 before going nationwide April 15. Earlier today, A24 released the first red-band trailer. If you’re into these sort of movies, I highly encourage you to give this a look and mark your calendars. Saulnier is one guy you’ll want to keep an eye on.

Photo Credit: A24

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Ben Lester

Ben likes movies.