One of the most intense and thrilling films of the year, Green Room is a real blast – short, sharp and shocking, with lashings of DIY attitude and a wicked sense of humour. Not for the faint-hearted, American writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s siege thriller has a big punk rock heart and outsider smarts– just like the fictional band it features, The Ain’t Rights.
Green Room delivers on the promise shown in Saulnier’s crowd-funded debut Blue Ruin (2014), which also featured marginal characters confronting something ‘nazi’ in the woodshed’ in the lawless backwaters of rural America. In attracting a big star name, the writer-director has hit the jackpot here: Patrick Stewart leaves his twinkly eyes backstage as he channels Breaking Bad’s lecturer-turned-drug-dealer, morphing into Walter White supremacist.
The film starts by showing us the band’s punk credentials: they escape being stranded in a cornfield by using a pushbike and syphoning petrol; they play a gig in a diner to three men and a dog; they are off the radar with no social media presence. As the singer explains to a mohawked promoter, ‘when you take it all virtual, you lose texture’. The Mohawk has a cousin in Oregon and he can get The Ain’t Rights on the bill at a festival the next day, but warns them that the audience is ‘mostly boots and braces down there.’
The band quickly realise that they are taking part in a neo-nazi skinhead convention, with ‘racial advocacy workshops’ run by leader and organiser Darcy (Stewart). ‘They run a tight ship’ explains his crop-haired side-kick (Macon Blair, memorable in Blue Ruin). ‘Except it’s a U-boat’, wisecracks the drummer. When The Ain’t Rights get onstage they endear themselves to the crowd by launching into a blistering cover version of the Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Punks F**k Off.
After their bassist witnesses the aftermath of a grisly backstage murder the band are trapped in the ‘green room’ while Darcy and his gang deliberate over how to best cover up the murder. What follows is ‘a bit of a maelstrom’, an Assault on Precinct 13 style siege in which everything ‘goes south’ and the band’s resourcefulness and bravery are tested to the limit.
Being locked in a scuzzy room with a stinky punk band might not sound like cinematic fun, but Saulnier’s suspenseful direction turns it into a white knuckle ride. Like the band, he uses whatever is close to hand – feedback, gaffer tape – to overcome his limitations. When necessary, he slows everything down: the slomo scene of band and audience with ambient soundtrack is reminiscent of the nightclub scenes in the recent film Victoria.
Saulnier’s ensemble cast are excellent and his witty, unpredictable script makes them human. Singer Tiger (Callum Turner, creepy Kuragin in BBC’s War and Peace), bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin, Chekov in Star Trek), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat, Arrested Development, The Final Girls) and drummer Reece (Joe Cole, Peaky Blinders) all have their quirks and we warm to them, rather than predict which one will be picked off next, a la many genre slasher pics.
Green Room confounds stereotypes and expectations. Patick Stewart’s baddie is more like a local political organiser having problems with his schedule than a rabid racist – ‘remember, this is a Movement, not a Party’ he tells his army of skinheads, who also turn out to be less-than-ferocious and mosh to the music of The Ain’t Rights.
The big time beckons for young writer-director Saulnier, but his punk attitude promises a bright, fresh and edgy future, so long as he can ‘keep it real’. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.