Sometimes, at the core of a great movie lies a simple plot. Such a movie, however, requires an assured director who elevates the material with his or her style and vision, making the movie much more than it originally was. Think of Nicolas Winding Refn with Drive, or George Miller with Mad Max: Fury Road. With Green Room, filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier is at the helm, and he makes this a bloody and memorable affair.
Green Room is Saulnier’s third feature, and much like his previous (and highly recommended) outing Blue Ruin, the film showcases the talented writer-director’s knack for world-building on a small scale. Once again, he works with a simple plot: a down-on-its-luck punk band sees something they shouldn’t in a neo-Nazi skinhead bar, and they attempt to escape the premises as the skinheads seek to kill them. It’s a siege and escape movie that becomes much more as Saulnier fleshes out this world by packing it with interesting characters. Each person stands out for different reasons, and it’s easy to empathize with them, even the skinheads. What’s neat is that none of these characters are archetypes; no one here is purely good nor evil. These are characters who – in the heat of the moment – are unsure about what course of action to take, and they tend to mess up. In other words, they’re human, and to see them act and react is utterly compelling. However, the film does move forward rather quickly, and as a result, some characters are treated as mere cannon fodder and aren’t fleshed out as well as they could be considering their roles in the narrative.
Each performer knows what makes his or her character click, and the performance reflects that. Anton Yelchin is fantastic as the stuttering and terrified band leader. Imogen Poots plays a mysterious character of few words, and she delivers her lines with such clarity and firmness that keep us guessing who she really is. Alia Shawkat shares a terrific chemistry with Yelchin, and that rapport really shines through in her scenes. Disconcerting from the moment he appears on screen, Patrick Stewart once again shows that he’s a force to be reckoned with by combining coldness and intelligence in his role as the bar owner. Macon Blair (who played the lead role in Blue Ruin) is given the film’s most fascinating character in that his performance consists of balancing acts, and he pulls it off spectacularly; a soft-spoken voice contrasts with an authoritative presence, and his morality butts heads with his loyalty.
The film’s most impressive achievements lie in its craft. It moves at a brisk pace, and editor Julia Bloch does fine work here, cutting action scenes with finesse and deftly see-sawing back and forth between the perspectives of the victims and the skinheads. Cinematographer Sean Porter utilizes light and shadows to great dramatic effect and creates some startling images. The sound work too is ace, as noises like audio feedback and the shattering of a fluorescent tube heighten tension all the more. There’s also the superb makeup on full display; human bodies are ripe for destruction, and Saulnier wreaks absolute havoc on them, so this film is definitely not for the squeamish.
Green Room is decidedly not as powerful as Blue Ruin, but it’s certainly a different beast that packs quite a punch. Saulnier has crafted a small-scale audible and visual experience, one that delivers on tension and thrill. It’s good ol’ adult entertainment that’s great for the season.
* Photos courtesy of A24