Sundance 2016: Green Room, by David Bax


Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin was such a masterful atom bomb of a debut feature that his follow-up was bound to be watched with close scrutiny. With Green Room, he’s made an arguably more conventional thriller but, nevertheless, has announced that he’s a talent who’s here to stay. This hyper-tense, ultra-violent punk rock Rio Bravo is already on its way to becoming a new classic of the thriller genre.

A punk band called the Ain’t Rights (Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Callum Turner and Joe Cole), desperate for enough cash to make the van ride home, accept a gig playing to a room of neo-Nazis. Brazenly starting their set with a cover of Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, they are eager to accept their cash and get back on the road when, on their way out the door, they witness the aftermath of a murder in the green room. They must rely on their wits and their guts to face off against the white supremacists, including Blue Ruin‘s Macon Blair and the calculating gang leader played by Patrick Stewart.

Before the plot kicks into gear, though, Saulnier confidently and carefully establishes the punk rock bonafides of the Ain’t Rights. In most movies, when characters pontificate about the real world bands they adore, any sensible music fan wants to scramble to hide behind their chair. Here, though, Saulnier displays not only a familiarity with genre stalwarts like the Cro-Mags but also a knowledge of the scene’s protocols and bylaws, the ways bands are promoted with flyers and interviews and find last minute lodging on apartment floors.

Once the inciting incident takes place – a quick, grisly glimpse of a dead body – Saulnier dispenses with any frivolities and keeps increasing the heat under the frying pan. There’s no filmic embellishment to the action sequences. When someone is shot, stabbed or bitten, the camera doesn’t flinch and the gore is sickeningly matter of fact.

As in Blue Ruin, Saulnier never betrays his characters or situations with contrivances. There’s a stomach tightening logic to each progression, as the characters repeatedly find themselves freed from one dire subset of circumstances only to find themselves in an even worse one. Green Room displays a crushing sympathy for its human characters (as well as its canine ones, thank God), but not so much that’s it’s ever willing to let them, or the audience, up off the mat.

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